Understanding basic first aid can save a life. From choking to abrasions, knowing correct first aid technique is the first step in stopping a situation from becoming potentially deadly.
A new study just published by the British Red Cross and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom says that over half of all deaths from injury could be prevented if people knew first aid.
This article will look at some common first aid scenarios, and what bystanders or family members can do to help.
Contents of this article:
Before you jump in
Knowing the right action to take can save a life.
In any emergency situation, the first step is to make sure that the scene is safe and that the rescuer will not be in danger by helping. This ensures that there will not be two victims instead of one.
Next, it is important to get extra help as appropriate, for example, by getting someone to call 9-1-1, depending on how serious the situation is.
If the person may have a neck or spine injury, they should not be moved, unless their life is in danger if they stay where they are.
Cardiac arrest and AED
Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops. A heart attack is not a cardiac arrest, but it can lead to a cardiac arrest.
If someone has a cardiac arrest, the first step is to call 9-1-1, immediately.
Next, look, listen, and feel for breathing, and check the pulse.
If there is no pulse, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If the person is not breathing but they have a pulse, the rescuer may give rescue breaths.
If the rescuer is unsure how to check the pulse, and the person is not breathing, the rescuer should start CPR. Early CPR can save a life.
How do I do CPR?
Give CPR if the person has no pulse and is not breathing.
CPR involves three steps:
- Lock your hands one over the other, so you can push with the ball of the lower hand
- Find the spot on the breast bone just below the nipple line
- Press hard and fast. The American Heart Association recommends 100 to 120 compressions a minute.
CPR does not always work, but sometimes it does. It is very tiring, so if another person is with you, take turns, but the second person should be ready to move in at once so as not to break the flow.
If available, use an automated external defibrillator (AED). AEDs are used to restore a normal heart rhythm in a person whose breathing and circulation have stopped. They are available in many public places, so call for someone to locate one, or continue CPR until help arrives.
If a person is bleeding, the priority is to stop the bleeding.
A first aid kit should contain gloves for protection, antiseptic wipes, and bandages. In the case of bleeding, first put on the gloves.
- If appropriate, clean the wound, but do not remove any large or protruding objects. If the wound is large, do not try to clean it.
- Use a sterile bandage or cloth to press firmly on the wound to stop bleeding.
- Maintain pressure and use tape, a wrap or hands to slow the bleeding.
- If possible, raise the wound above heart level to slow the blood flow further.
Although a tourniquet is no longer generally recommended, it can be used for life-threatening injuries, such as a lost hand or limb. A tourniquet will limit the blood flow to the wound until professional help arrives.
Choking is a life-threatening emergency, because it blocks airflow in the throat or windpipe.
The Heimlich maneuver can help a person who is choking:
- Lean the person forward and use the heel of the hand to deliver five blows to the back
- Give five quick abdominal thrusts using the thumb side of the fists, directly above the navel. Repeat this cycle five times.
- If the person falls unconscious because of the blocked airway, start CPR. This may dislodge the blockage.
The universal sign of choking is if the victim is wrapping their hands around their throat.
If a person is breathing, put them in the recovery position until professional help comes.
To rescue a drowning victim, the rescuer must first check that they will not get into danger themselves, before finding the safest way to remove the drowning person from water.
If possible, throw a flotation device. If the person appears to be unconscious, it may be necessary to wade or swim to retrieve them, if it is safe to do so.
Look, listen, and feel for breathing. If the person is not breathing, start CPR.
If they start breathing, put them in the recovery position, on their side with one leg bent at the knee for stability. This will allow any water or vomit to drain from the mouth.
Cover the person with a blanket and monitor them until help comes.
Minor and major burns
A minor burn affects only the outer layer of skin, and it is likely to cause redness, swelling, and pain. It is a first-degree burn.
Cool, running water can ease the pain of a minor burn.
It is a good idea to remove anything tight around the area, such as jewelry or clothing, in case swelling occurs.
A blistered area can be cleaned, but nobody should intentionally break them. Applying aloe vera will help soothe and heal the skin. To further ease pain, take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
Do not apply toothpaste or butter to a burn.
If the skin is red, white, or splotchy and blistered, this could be a second-degree burn. If the burn is less than 3 inches across, it can be treated at home.
If it is over 3 inches across, medical attention is needed.
The Mayo Clinic recommend seeking medical help for burns if a person has:
- First-degree burns that cover a large part of the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint
- Second-degree burns that cover an area 3 inches or more across
- Burns that involve all layers of skin and the underlying fat, muscle, or bone
- Difficulty breathing
- Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning or another toxic effect, for example, from breathing in smoke.
If the person is in an unsafe area, they should be moved to a safe place. Next, check that they are is breathing and conscious.
If the victim is not breathing, start CPR.
Do not remove any cloth that is stuck to burnt areas of the skin and do not place major burns under cold water. Raise the burned area, and place a damp, cool, clean cloth on the burn while waiting for medical help to arrive.
Stings and bites
First, find out if the person is allergic. If they are allergic and have an Epipen, the rescuer may help the person to use the Epipen. If the person is likely to have an allergy, professional help may be needed urgently. Anaphylactic shock can be fatal.
Removing the stinger can reduce the risk of a local inflammatory reaction. Remove any tight fitting clothes or jewelry, in case there is swelling.
Clean the sting and the area around it, and apply a cold compress.
Apply hydrocortisone cream or take an oral antihistamine to reduce itching. Toothpaste has also shown to reduce pain.
Treatment for minor to moderate stings can usually be dealt with at home, but severe allergic reactions need urgent medical attention, as they can be fatal.
Training for first aid
Training in first aid is an important skill at any age. To locate a training facility in any area, the American Red Cross has training location services here. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers training here.