Mom and Dad’s Little Emergency Kit

by Dr. Perle Feldman

Now that summer is upon us and people are getting ready to head out to the cottage and on vacation it is time to put together the family medical emergency kit. Nothing is more frustrating than having to leave the lake and go searching for a doctor in a strange place when what you really need is first aid.

When packing a kit it should be individualized to fit your family’s needs but I am going to suggest a few things that are almost sure to come in handy.

The first and most important things to pack are fresh orders of all prescription medications needed by your family. This is particularly important for those medicines that are only taken occasionally, such as asthma puffers (such as Ventalin, Berotec & others) These medications have a disconcerting habit of running out when far from the pharmacy. If possible get extra puffers and sprayers to keep in the emergency kit. Many a puffer has gone to the beach in a swim bag, but only few return.

Antihistamines are useful to have in your kit. The old fashioned ones such as Benadryl and Chlorpheniramine (Chlorotripolon & others) are useful for taking away the sting of multiple insect bites, poison ivy, and the itchy eyes and nose caused by minor allergic reactions. The newer non-drowsy antihistamines (Reactine, Claritin & others) do not work as quickly as the old ones but are very useful. Some such as loratidine come in a children’s syrup. An over the counter cold remedy can dry up the nose and make people with colds more comfortable.

Insect bites and itchy spots in general will respond to a tiny dab of cortisone cream, which is available over the counter. Many people use calamine lotion on these, but I do not find that this really works. A splinter removal kit is a good thing for all parents to pack. This consists of some kind of skin cleanser, such as alcohol or peroxide, a sterile needle and a pair of tweezers to pull the splinter out. You should also pack a supply of lollypops so that your “patients” have something to distract them during the operation.

For the inevitable skinned knees, scratches and minor cuts remember that soap and water are your first line of defense. The wound should be cleaned of all dirt and gravel and washed thoroughly. Your tweezers can help get out those stubborn bits of road rock. You can then use your skin cleanser, a little topical antibiotic such as polysporin or bacitracin and cover with a bandage. Your kit should contain a variety of sticky bandages, some sterile gauze squares, a role or two of gauze and some tape. If you can find some “butterfly” dressings or steristrips you can stick some minor lacerations together without a doctor’s help.

Minor sprains, strains and booboos can be treated with rest, elevation and ice. Having an ace bandage can supply a little support. A physician should see any injury where there is significant swelling, bruising or inability to move the affected part. Splinting the injury can make moving the patient a lot less painful. Stiff cardboard or a rolled up newspaper can make a good emergency splint. Some clean Popsicle sticks can be used to splint little fingers after the dreaded volleyball injury.

It is important to have acetaminophen (tylenol, Atasol, Tempra & others) in the doses and forms appropriate for members of your family, to treat fevers and headaches and other pains. A nonsteroidal antiinflammatory such as Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) is also good for menstrual cramps, muscle and bone pain and temporary relief of toothache.

Strange bathrooms and unusual food can play havoc with people’s digestion while on vacation. Your kit could contain an antacid and/or some over the counter Famotidine or Ranitidine (Pepcid, Zantac) for acid related tummy-aches. A Magnesium laxative (Magnolax, Milk of Magnesia) or a stool softener (Colace e.g.) can be useful if increased fluid, fruit and fiber have failed the constipated. Parents of small children should have some gastric replacement solution available should their child develop diarrhea, and vomiting.

Burns, including sunburns are treated differently depending on their severity. The initial treatment in all burns is to cool the skin by putting on cool compresses or bathing the affected part in cool water. Ice, oil and butter should be avoided in the treatment of burns. If the burn blisters the blistered or oozy area should be covered with an antibiotic dressing and the dressing changed daily until the new skin forms. Extensive burns or third degree burns that are deep and painless should be seen in the hospital. A good moisturizing cream can help reduce the tightness and soothe the pain of sunburn. Remember it is better to use sunscreen, hats and cover-ups before than to treat the burn after.

If you have a family member who has severe allergies needing epinephrine/adrenaline you should have several epinephrine delivery systems, such as an Epipen available. There should be one in the car, one in the house, and one with the kid. Remember that you should give a dose of a good old-fashioned antihistamine such as Benadryl or Chlorpheniramine at the same time as the Epipen to prevent the symptoms from recurring. The Epinephrine may need to be repeated so carry a spare to cover you while you drive to the hospital.

In the meantime don’t be paranoid; enjoy your summer holiday.

Mamma Perle’s Emergency Kit:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antihistamine - old fashioned
  • Antihistamine - new fashioned
  • Cold remedy
  • Gastric replacement fluid (I bottle, or packets)
  • Antacid: liquid and pills
  • Magnesium laxative
  • Cortisone 1% cream
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Moisturizer cream
  • Antiseptic cleanser
  • Sticky bandages - various
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • 2 roles cling gauze
  • 1 role tape
  • 1 clean needle
  • Tweezers
  • Ace bandage
  • Splints