Your beach bag first aid kit - Cape Cod Healthcare

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Published on August 11, 2020

Your beach bag first aid kit

Beach First Aid

Headed to the beach? Don’t forget your chair, your towel and, particularly this summer, an ounce of prevention and some simple first aid gear.

“I’ve always been of the opinion that prevention is probably the most important thing when you go out there,” Craig Cornwall, MD, an emergency medicine specialist with Cape Cod Healthcare, said. “If you can avoid getting the sunburn, the injury, whatever, then you’re ahead of the curve.”

If you do have a minor injury at the beach this summer, you might have to treat it yourself rather than relying on a lifeguard’s first aid kit. While the Cape Cod National Seashore and towns are staffing most beaches during the pandemic, there will be fewer guards and some beaches won’t have any. And, as long as the state remains in Phase 3 of reopening, lifeguards are being told to avoid treating minor injuries in order to maintain social distancing as much as possible, according to a report in the Cape Cod Times.

So, for starters, how do you avoid the beach injuries that are most likely to require first aid? Consider three basics, and one new advisory, Dr. Cornwall said:


“On the [Cape’s beaches] northside especially, people oftentimes overlook foot protection,” he said. “Then they go clamming and step on a razor clam. So, having either old tennis shoes or the more specific water shoes, that’s a huge plus.”


Sunscreen, umbrellas, hats, etc. will help you avoid a burn that could require a trip to urgent care, Dr. Cornwall said.


Fluids are important to help prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion, he added. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness and nausea. “Usually it’s a combination of being in the heat with a lack of good fluid intake,” he said. “Oftentimes, alcohol contributes to the problem.”

Shark Awareness

The increase in great white shark sightings means you also need to pack a heightened sense of awareness and caution in your beach bag, he said. As you enter the beach, take note of lifeguards – or the lack of them – as well as bleeding control and tourniquet stations. “You have to know where they are and identify them; it’s too late to be looking for it when it happens.”

Your Beach First Aid Kit

For the more common minor beach injuries, pack some simple first aid items in your beach bag or make sure you have them in your medicine cabinet, Dr. Cornwall said. Here’s what he recommends:

  • Band-aids and antibiotic ointment such as Bacitracin. It’s hard at the beach to wash sand and dirt out of a cut, and small children may complain loudly at someone messing with their sensitive feet, he said. But do your best, and if you think a cut warrants more serious care or cleaning, go to urgent care. “You know, in an ideal world, they would take you to the lifeguard shack and wash it out, but I suspect they’re probably not letting people get access to that area at all.”
  • Vinegar for jellyfish stings. Cape Cod waters do have stinging jellyfish, such as lion’s mane, particularly as waters warm on the southside. Stings and their pain can be treated by changing the PH level with the acid in vinegar, Dr. Cornwall said. “The quicker you get it on, the quicker you can neutralize the toxins and make the symptoms improve.” It’s also true that urine can neutralize stings, although that’s not a strategy for a crowded public beach, and vinegar has more consistent PH levels, he said. Benadryl will help with an allergic reaction to jellyfish or bee stings, he said.
  • Tweezers for superficial splinters. Splinters are another reason for foot protection, particularly around docks and boardwalks. If a splinter appears to be deep or has broken off, head to urgent care.
  • Bug spray. Do whatever you can to guard against the ticks that hide in upland grassy areas near beaches and carry Lyme and other diseases. Use bug spray with DEET {N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide}, wear light-colored clothes and check yourself frequently for ticks, Dr. Cornwall said.
  • Poison ivy wash. Poison ivy thrives in beach dunes. If you can’t avoid it, Dr. Cornwall suggests a product like Technu or Zanfel to wash off the irritating residue called urushiol that triggers the allergic reaction and itchy rash. The University of Michigan also recommends washing with dishwashing soap or rubbing alcohol. “If you [wash it] within the first hour, you could minimize your likelihood of getting the rash later,” Dr. Cornwall said.