Emergency situations strike without warning. Unfortunately, it can be too easy to forget your first aid lessons and make a mistake despite your good intentions. In a pinch, do you know how to help someone who needs it? More importantly, do you know what not to do?
Don’t Make These Common First Aid Mistakes
In an emergency situation, it’s all too easy to forget your training in a panic. Even if you feel confident in what you do, are you sure you aren’t offering potentially dangerous help without realizing it? These all-too-common first aid errors might just be making things worse:
- Giving caffeine
- Improperly using heat or cold treatments
- Making a tourniquet
- The Heimlich Maneuver
- Rescue breaths during CPR
1) Giving Caffeine
Coffee or soda may be great to keep you awake during work, but never give either to someone in need of medical help. A dehydrated person will only become more dehydrated after consuming caffeine, while someone losing consciousness will only see a temporary increase in blood pressure that can just make the situation worse.
Instead, offer a victim of dehydration a glass of cold water and get them either into the shade or an air-conditioned building. Keep them cool and ensure they get plenty to drink. If the victim is about to pass out, have them lie down and keep their legs elevated to ensure blood can reach the brain. Keep an eye on them and if they don’t recover soon, call a doctor.
2) Improperly Using Heat or Cold Treatments
One of the most common first aid mistakes involves when to pull out heat packs or ice. You may have heard that the best way to treat a sprain is to apply heat, while a bruise needs ice. The truth, however, is more complicated.
A bruise should indeed receive cold treatment, but NEVER place ice directly on the skin. Wrap the ice in plastic or a towel and alternate holding it against the bruise for 20 minutes, then letting the wound breath for 20 minutes. Exposing the bruise for too long to very cold temperatures leads to damage.
Meanwhile, treating a sprain should never involve hot packs. Similar to treating a bruise, wrap some ice or a cold pack in plastic or a towel and hold it on for twenty minutes, then uncover the wound for 20 minutes. If the pain hasn’t settled down once an hour has passed, get the patient to a doctor.
3) Making a Tourniquet
A tourniquet–a tight wrap that prevents blood flow to an injured limb–is no longer recommended as a good method of treating a bleeding wound. To stop bleeding from a gash or wound, apply pressure directly to the cut with gauze or, if gauze is unavailable, a clean cloth. Once bleeding has stopped or significantly slowed down, wrap the covered wound in more gauze and keep it elevated.
Pro Tip: Keeping a bleeding wound elevated slows blood flow to the wound site and reduces further blood loss. Make sure to keep severe wounds wrapped and elevated above the heart.
4) The Heimlich Maneuver
The tried-and-true Heimlich maneuver is still an effective method for helping someone who’s choking. However, beginning this maneuver immediately and continually doing it without stopping is no longer recommended by the Red Cross. Instead, lean the victim forward slightly and deliver five blows with the heel of your hand between their shoulder blades. At that point, perform the Heimlich–stand the patient up, place your fist just above the belly button, and quickly thrust in and up five times. Switch between these two processes until the obstruction is free.
5) Rescue Breaths During CPR
Don’t completely forget how to do rescue breaths, but consider when to use them. According to the Red Cross’s updated recommendations, an adult or teenager who experiences a heart attack needs only chest compressions, also known as “hands-only CPR”. However, rescue breaths are still the best course of action for other patients or circumstances:
Respond Properly in an Emergency
While some form of first aid is better than nothing, the wrong kind of first aid could only make things worse. Keep yourself informed on the best strategies for emergency first aid through classes and ongoing study to make sure you’re prepared for anything. Don’t let yourself panic and make a critical mistake in a bad situation.