Do you know what to do?
You’re at a picnic with family and friends enjoying the nice summer weather. The last thing you are probably thinking about is an injury. Unfortunately, it can happen in the blink of an eye. Your niece falls down and cuts her knee, your father burns his hand while starting the grill or you cut your hand while cutting up fruit. Do you know what to do if any of these situations happen? Do you know when to just treat the injury or get medical assistance?
First Aid Importance
First aid is essential to provide treatment when someone is injured. Most often, this is all that is needed and the person is able to go back to whatever activity they were doing. Other times, first aid is the first step in getting the injured person medical care while waiting for professional medical personnel to arrive. In these cases, first aid can mean the difference between someone having serious complications/surviving their injury or not. This means that first aid requires you to act quickly and efficiently. So, you need to know what to do because there won’t be time to read directions to figure it. The skills we are going to look at are important and the best way to become competent is to practice. A good spot to do this is by participating in a first aid course that is offered in your area.
There are numerous first aid skills that you can learn. Some of the most important are addressing when someone is choking, helping someone who is having breathing difficulties, bleeding of any kind, taking care of burns, treating shock, what to do for sprains/strains/fractures, recognizing symptoms of a concussion and knowing when a bug bite is infected. While this may seem overwhelming due to the volume of conditions, the majority of the remedies are not only easy to understand but are things that make sense.
Choking occurs when something gets stuck in your throat and blocks the opening to your lungs causing you not to be able to breathe. When someone is choking, they will probably need to use hand gestures to communicate because they won’t be able to talk. If they are able to talk, tell them to cough to clear their airway. If they are struggling to breathe, stand behind the person, position their head forward and hit them vigorously in between their shoulder blades with the palm of your hand. You can repeat this as needed. If this still doesn’t dislodge whatever is stuck, use the Heimlich maneuver. This requires you to stand behind the person, put your arms around their waist, make a fist and put this just above their belly button, grab your fist with your other hand and forcefully thrust inwards and upwards of the person’s stomach. You can do the maneuver on yourself if you are alone and choking. Also, you can use a chair by bending over it and thrusting downward in order to mimic the motion.
If someone stops breathing, you have a limited amount of time to get oxygen back into their body in order to preserve function of their brain and organs. If you think someone has stopped breathing, trying talking to or gently shaking them to see if they respond. If they don’t, move the person so they are lying flat on their back on a hard surface, usually the floor. Next, you need to tilt their head back by using one hand under their chin to lift up while using your other hand to gently push back on their forehead. This helps to move their tongue out of the way of the back their throat. While holding their head in position, lean down and look at their chest to see if it is rising and falling as you place your cheek near their mouth/nose to see if you feel any air movement. If you feel a breath and/or see their chest rise, keep their head tilted back until help arrives. If you don’t feel/see anything, begin basic life support. Since most problems in adults related to breathing are caused by their heart not functioning, it is important to start chest compressions right away. Don’t waste time checking for a pulse. Put the heel of one hand over the middle the person’s chest (not over their ribs or stomach). You should feel a straight, solid bone going from where the person’s collar bones meet just below their neck and it extends towards their stomach. This is what you want to put the heel of your hand on. The heel of your other hand goes on top of the first one. Your weight should be over your hands and your elbows should be locked straight. You should press down firmly and quickly at a rate of about 100 times a minute. All the pressure should be going down through the heels of your hands and your fingers should not be pushing into the person’s chest (if you lock them together, it will help prevent this). The latest guidelines for CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) state that it can be administer via hands only, which means you don’t have to stop to give rescue breathes. This is because the movement of the person’s chest being compressed and recoiling is enough to inhale and exhale air. It is important to note that if you are alone, give one minute of basic life support before calling for help. If you aren’t alone, send someone to get help while you start CPR. If you are providing chest compressions to someone, do not stop until someone else can take over for you or you become so exhausted that if you continue, you will hurt yourself.
Bleeding is a common outcome if you scrape or cut yourself. The main concern, no matter the size, is to control and stop it. If you have a scrape or small cut, the bleeding will stop on its own within a few minutes. You can help speed the process along by holding pressure to the site. If there is something in the cut, remove it before holding pressure (ex. glass). Once the bleeding has stopped, you need to gently wash the area with soap and water. Deeper cuts have blood that seeps out slowly, but steadily and can be harder to get controlled. With some pressure, the bleeding can be stopped. Due to their size and depth, they often need to have stitches or be glued closed. If someone has bleeding that squirts bright red blood in sync with their pulse, it is coming from an artery and needs immediate medical attention. If not rapidly treated, the person will die. In order to prevent the person from bleeding to death, you need to put hard pressure over the area and do not let go until you are told to do so by a medical professional. Use clothes, bandages or whatever you have available to put over the site and if they become soaked, do not remove them but put more material over the top while continuing to hold pressure. Have the person lie down and get the affected area higher than the rest of the body. This will help to reduce the bleeding and ensure that the person is getting enough oxygen to their brain and other organs. A special type of bleeding that needs a different kind of treatment is a nosebleed. This usually occurs when small blood vessels in the nose burst. Sometimes, this means blood comes out the nostril or it can mean the blood runs down the throat into the stomach. To prevent making the nosebleed worse by increasing the pressure in the head, do not bend your head backwards or lie down. Simply pinch your nostrils shut for 10 minutes with your fingers while remaining upright. If it doesn’t stop, then you need to be seen by a doctor.
Burns are damage to your skin and deeper tissue that can be caused by fire, heat, electricity, radiation or chemicals. There are four classifications that are based on the depth and extent of the damage. First degree is when your skin is red, painful and very sensitive to touch. The area might have some drainage of fluid from deeper layers of skin. A good example of this would be when you get a sunburn. Second degree means the damage is deeper and blisters form. These are still painful and sensitive to touch. If you have ever touched a hot pan and had a blister form, this is a second degree burn. Third degree burns mean that all layers of the skin are dead. They can appear in a variety of colors from normal skin tone, white, black (charred) or bright red (blood is in the bottom of the wound). There are no blisters and, typically, they aren’t painful because all the sensory nerves in the area have been killed. Fourth degree burns are severe enough that the burn extends into the muscle and/or bone beneath the skin. Often muscle tissue or bone is visible and may or may not be painful depending the extend of nerve damage. The goal of treatment for burns is to reduce the amount of damage. If the person is in danger, remove them from that area (remember to not put yourself at risk). If the person is on fire, use a blanket to smother the fire. You can use water but be careful if the burns are being caused by electricity or chemicals because you could be putting yourself at risk. Remove all clothing and jewelry from the area to the best of your ability. If there is clothing stuck to the skin, leave it in place. Run lukewarm water over the area in order to help cool the tissue and prevent further damage. If the burn is not large, you should run water over it for a minimum of an hour because this is extremely beneficial at limiting damage. Heat loss can occur from large burns, so be sure to warm areas that are not injured. Never open blisters because you can cause an infection to the area from bacteria and other organisms. Do not use any ointments, butter or lard on burns because these actually trap heat in and can make them worse. Burns that should be treated by medical professionals include those bigger than the palm of a hand on any part of your body, any burn that is on the face/neck/hand/groin, any chemical or electrical burn, all third degree burns, most second degree burns, people over 65 or under 5 and anyone who has been burned and has cold/clammy skin, other injuries or appears to be in distress.
Shock is what happens when your brain is not getting enough oxygen because there isn’t enough blood circulating to it. It can happen after a significant amount of blood loss, serious infection that resulted in loss of fluids, serious burns and part of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Symptoms of shock include paleness, sweaty/clammy/cold skin, dizziness, low blood pressure, anxiousness/restlessness, weak/fast pulse, slow/shallow breathing, disorientation and loss of consciousness. People who are in shock need to be taken to a hospital and treated by a doctor. While waiting for help to arrive, help the person lie down on their back and raise their feet to increase circulation to their brain. Keep them warm with blanket, if needed, and don’t give them anything to eat or drink to prevent them from choking.
One of the most common injuries that need first aid are strains, sprains and fractures. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments (the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints). A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon (a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones). A fracture is when your bone is broken. Sprains and strains are very similar and treated the same way. A way to tell sprain/strain from a fracture is if you are able to walk on the injury, then it usually isn’t broken. In order to reduce swelling and treat a sprain/strain, you need to use RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) treatment. This means you need to not use the affected area, put on ice on it for 10-20-minute intervals with 10-minute breaks in between for the next several hours, wrap the area in a compression bandage and keep the area elevated to the same level as your heart. The majority of the swelling and pain should go away in the first week, but it can take four or more weeks to heal completely. If your affected body part swells significantly in the first hour or it is impossible to walk, it is probably fractured and you should be evaluated by a doctor.
Any time you get hit in the head, you are at risk for a concussion. It doesn’t matter what hits you in the head, but if you pass out for any period of time, are too dizzy to walk or start vomiting, then you need to go to the emergency room immediately. If you do not have any of theses symptoms, you still need to take it easy and not participate in any strenuous activities. It is possible to have a concussion and not pass out. If you have a headache, confusion, blurry vision, irritability, memory loss, sensitivity to light/noise and/or sleepiness, then you should be evaluated by a doctor. Sometimes these symptoms do not appear until 24 – 72 hours after the injury and can last several weeks.
Insect bites by themselves usually aren’t too bad…just very itchy. This itchiness makes us scratch the area and this is where the problem lies. We all have bacteria on our skin and underneath our fingernails, so when you scratch the bite area, you can introduce these bacteria to your body. This is why it is key not to scratch and keep the area clean by washing it a few times a day with soap and water. Typically, a bite area will disappear within a few days. If the area becomes redder and/or enlarged, then it might be infected and you should be seen by a doctor. If you have any flu-like symptoms after an insect bite, it might be the sign of a mosquito-borne illness and you should be evaluated by a doctor.
First Aid Kit
First aid kits are essential for being able to provide care to someone who needs help after an injury. Kits can be basic or comprehensive depending on your medical skill level and how far away you are from professional medical assistance. You can buy a kit or make one, but it should have everything you need to treat burns, cuts/scrapes, insect bites, sprains/strains and splinters. If you are planning on using your first aid kit for travel, it should have additional items, such as medications, since a pharmacy might not be readily available. Some of these medications include a fever reducer, nasal decongestant, cough suppressant, sore throat reliever, pain reliever, anti-diarrheal, acid reducer, gas reliever, allergy suppressant and ointments to treat skin issues. In order to make your kit easily portable, they should be small and simple. If the packaging is clear, then you can see what is inside and don’t have to search for it when you need it quickly. It is also helpful if the kit is in a water-resistant, drop-proof case. Re-sealable sandwich bags are a great way to organize things within the case. It is important to know how to use everything in your kit and train family members or traveling companions on the items (you might be the one needing first aid). Be sure to inspect the kit twice a year and replace any expired items. If it is an at home first kit, a good place to keep it is in the kitchen in a spot where it will be easily accessible. If it is a travel first aid kit, putting it in a suitcase, backpack or dry bag is a good idea. You can also put first aid kits in your cars or any other vehicle where you might need to have one. For a detailed list of items that should be included in your first aid kit, please view Fast Facts.
First aid is something that you hope you don’t have to use, but, most likely, you will need to use it at some point. Being prepared is key and the best way to do this is learning the skills that you need to treat various types of injuries, practicing these skills and have a well-stocked first aid kit available when you need it. By doing all this, you will be ready the next time you or someone you care about gets injured. To learn first aid skills in depth, please check with your local community center or local chapter of the American Red Cross or similar organization. If you would like more information, please visit the American Red Cross’s First Aid page at https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/first-aid