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home : columns : ask the doctors June 25, 2021

5/3/2021 8:21:00 AM
How to make the perfect first-aid kit

Dear Doctor: This year for the kids' summer vacation, we're renting a cabin up in the mountains. My question is, what kind of a first-aid kit should I put together? We will be there a week. We have three very busy boys, who are 8, 11 and 13, and a 4-year-old girl.

Dear Reader: It's a great idea to pack a first-aid kit whenever you travel. And with four active children running around in an unfamiliar home and in the great outdoors for a week, it's important to be prepared for a range of emergencies.

Pre-packaged kits are available for sale, or you can easily put together a kit tailored to the needs of your family. Use a waterproof container large enough to store everything you'll need, and make a checklist to keep things organized. It's also helpful to get local medical information from the landlord, including the location and contact information for the nearest pharmacy and urgent care center.

As for what to pack, start with any prescription medications or products your family uses. Bring enough for the trip, plus a few extra days in case plans change. Pack prescription meds in their original containers, which include the patient's name, dosage instructions and information about refills. If you've got spares of prescription glasses, bring those along, too, just in case. If someone in the family uses a hearing aid, don't forget extra batteries. If someone in the family has a chronic condition, such as diabetes or a serious allergy, consider a medical alert bracelet.

You'll most likely be dealing with a range of minor medical situations. These include sunburn, insect bites, rashes, scrapes, cuts, sprains, upset stomachs, nausea, headaches, coughs and colds, and diarrhea. That means packing acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin for pain and inflammation; antihistamines for anyone with an allergy; over-the-counter meds for nausea and motion sickness (this last one you might want to keep at the ready while driving); and also antacids for too-adventurous eating. Just in case, bring cold and flu meds for both children and adults.

For wound care, you'll need an assortment of adhesive bandages, as well as antibiotic ointment for cuts, scrapes and burns. Elastic wraps, plus safety pins or other closures, will help with ankle, wrist and knee sprains. Hopefully, you won't need them, but gauze rolls and 2- and 4-inch pads (plus adhesive tape to secure them) will take care of larger injuries. You'll want hydrogen peroxide to clean all sizes of wounds.

In the lotion category, you'll want to bring plenty of sunscreen, calamine lotion for run-ins with poison oak or poison ivy, hydrocortisone cream to deal with the itch from rashes, and aloe vera gel to soothe a sunburn. You'll never regret packing bug spray, but, again, be sure to get products that are appropriate for both children and adults.

Useful tools include tweezers for splinters and bee stings, round-tipped scissors for cutting gauze and bandages to size, a thermometer, and antiseptic wipes to keep in a pocket or backpack. If anyone in the family has a severe allergy, you'll need an EpiPen or other type of epinephrine auto-injector.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Send your questions to, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1450, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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