When administering first aid, it’s important that you know what you’re doing – it’s serious business. There’s a lot of he-said-she-said medical mythology and superstition floating around out there.
Never rely on half-baked handed down remedies in an emergency situation.
The following seven medical myths are some of the biggest first aid no-nos in circulation.
The fairytale: Put a spoon, finger or hard object in the victim’s mouth to stop them from swallowing their tongue.
The real deal: Make the victim as comfortable as possible until the seizure ends.
Also known as fits or convulsions, seizures are caused by an interruption in the brain’s electrical activity. When a seizure strikes, there’s very little you can do for the victim, other than make them comfortable and wait for the storm to pass.
During a seizure, the muscles contract uncontrollably and the victim can become unresponsive. In children, seizures often occur as a result of high temperatures, or serious infections. In rare cases, they can be a symptom of epilepsy.
In the moments leading up to a seizure, warning signs may include fever, sweating, facial twitching, and vomiting. If you see someone having a seizure, clear a comfortable space for them and ventilate the room with fresh air.
Do not try to restrain the victim or put anything in their mouth during the seizure. Place something soft (a sweater or a cushion) under their head to prevent head injuries or abrasions. Keep the victim cool by removing excess clothing or bedding. As soon as the convulsions subside, call emergency services for assistance.
The fairytale: Smother the burn with toothpaste, butter or aloe vera cream.
The real deal: Place burn under cold running water for up to 20 minutes.
Timing is everything when treating burn injuries. If treated incorrectly or with too little urgency, burns can leave nasty, painful scars. If you want your burn victim to live happily ever after without unnecessary pain and scarring, do not reach for the butter.
Approved creams, lotions and gels can be applied to burns and scalds to assist long-term healing but, when the injury happens, your immediate response should be to safely remove the heat source and put the burn wound under cold running water to prevent further damage. If cold running water is not available, apply an approved first aid burn gel (every first aid kit should be equipped with this gel) or an alternative cool, clean fluid, such as soda or beer.
The fairytale: Tilt the victim’s head backwards to stop blood flow.
The real deal: Tilt head forwards and pinch the nose.
Nosebleeds happen when a blood vessel inside the nose bursts. Also known as epistaxis, nosebleeds can be caused by infection, injury, or allergic reaction. Nosebleeds are common in children and are usually not serious. However, if they are frequent or severe, medical supervision is recommended.
When you see someone with a nosebleed, your first priority is to calm the person down – distress increases blood flow, which can make matters worse. Ask the victim to sit upright with their head dropped slightly forward.
Firmly pinch the soft part of the victim’s nostrils, below the bridge of their nose, between your thumb and finger. Maintain your grip on the victim’s nose for at least ten minutes, instructing them to breathe through their mouth.
Release your grip after 10-15 minutes to see if the bleeding has subsided. If the nosebleed has stopped, advise the victim not to sniff or blow their nose for 15 minutes, while the clot hardens. If the nosebleed persists, seek medical attention.
The fairytale: Put the patient’s head between their knees.
The real deal: Lay the person down in a comfortable position.
In fairy tales, fainting is often a symptom of romance and hearts a-flutter. But the scientific explanation for fainting is not quite so starry-eyed.
Fainting is a brief bout of unconsciousness, caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure. The most likely cause of this sudden drop is usually a change in the heartbeat or blood vessels – not the mere sight of Prince Charming!
If you see someone faint, do not put their head between their knees; this is not an emergency landing. Help the victim lay down on the ground, elevating their feet above the height of their head where possible. If the fainting was triggered by heat, remove or loosen any excess clothing and cool the victim with a fan or wet cloth.
For mild fainting episodes, consciousness should return within minutes. If the victim is unconscious, gently roll them to their side and check for breathing and a pulse. If the person is not responsive, call emergency services immediately.
The fairytale: Soak the sprained limb in hot water.
The real deal: Apply ice to sprain, dress with an elastic bandage, and elevate.
Sprain injuries usually involve swelling of the ligaments and other soft tissues around a joint, such as an ankle or wrist. If you are looking for a magic first aid remedy for sprains – hot water is not the solution. In fact, the heat from hot water is likely to increase swelling.
The best first aid treatment for sprains is a formula known simply as RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. When sprains occurs, rest is essential. Once the injured person is in a comfortable resting position, apply ice to the affected area. Your first aid kit should contain a suitable ice pack – keep it pressed gently against the wound for up to 20 minutes.
Once the pain subsides, wrap the injured joint in a compression bandage – every decent first aid kit contains a selection of elastic bandages. If the bandage aggravates the injury or causes pain, don’t use it. Keep the sprained area elevated and rested while you seek professional medical advice.
- CAR ACCIDENTS
The fairytale: Drag the injured person away from the scene of the collision.
The real deal: Don’t move unless there is immediate danger.
If your first impulse at the scene of a crash is to pry passengers from the wreckage, you’ve been watching too many action movies. The likelihood of a car exploding after an accident is extremely rare. The likelihood of a victim sustaining further injuries when you lug them away from a crash site, however, is high.
If you are the first to respond to a car accident, your first move should be to call emergency services. Car accidents can cause a wide range of injuries, including whiplash, spinal injuries, broken bones, and head injuries. In many cases, attempts to move an injured body from a collision site will exacerbate these injuries.
By all means, check for injuries and for signs of breathing. If you determine that someone is unconscious or non-responsive, it may be necessary to perform CPR. If so, handle the patient with extreme care, minimising any bodily movements that may inflict further injury.
The fairytale: Warm a hypothermic patient with alcohol.
The real deal: Replace wet clothes with warm clothing and a hat
A bartender with an overactive imagination and a heavy pour may have dreamt up this first aid fairy-tale. While alcohol does give us a subjective sense of warmth, it actually dilates our blood vessels, which can cause further heat loss. So when hypothermia sets in, do not dose up on whiskey.
In severe cases of hypothermia, call emergency services immediately. In milder cases, move the patient to a dry, warm place and remove any wet clothing.
Hypothermia feels most evident in the extremities, but your first aim should be to warm the patient’s core. Wrap them in warm blankets, towels, or coats, protecting their head and torso first. If the patient is conscious, offer them warm, sweet (non-alcoholic) fluids.