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First aid can be defined as providing immediate care to someone suffering or injured from non-life-threatening to life-threatening injury or disease onset until medical care arrives. (1) For instance, providing CPR to resuscitate a person until professional medical help (paramedics) arrives on the scene is a classic example of first aid.
The goal of first aid is to provide the necessary care to prevent serious injuries from occurring by managing the injury as soon as possible before receiving professional medical help.
Recognizing the severity of the situation is crucial in determining the type of care required. It is beneficial to call 911 and to remain on the line if a serious illness/injury is suspected.
Basics of a First Aid Kit
Your first aid kit should ideally include the following items:
- Band-Aids of various sizes
- Roller bandages
- Sterile gauze
- Antiseptic wipes
- Antiseptic swabs
- Antiseptic solution (hydrogen peroxide)
- Eye shield
- Eye wash
- CPR mask
- Non-latex gloves
- Antibiotic ointment
- 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone cream
- Calamine lotion
- A blanket
- Disposable cold packs
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- First aid phonebook
First Aid for Minor Cuts or Scrapes
Prompt treatment to an open wound helps minimize the risk of scarring and infection. This is what you need to do immediately after getting a cut, scrape, gash, or any other open injury:
- Wash your hands before treating any cuts or scrapes to prevent the introduction of bacteria into open skin and minimizing the risk of infections from occurring.
- Control the bleeding. Normally, bleeding stops shortly after an injury. If bleeding does not cease shortly thereafter, apply pressure to the wound with gauze or a clean cloth and elevate the wound until bleeding ceases.
- Clean the wound immediately. Running water on a minor cut or scrape can eliminate the risk of infection. Using soap, wash the edges of the wound gently and thoroughly. Do not get soap in the wound. Sterilized tweezers can be used to remove any dirt or debris on the wound. If all dirt cannot be removed, seek professional medical help.
- Apply antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly. (2) This moistens the surface of the wound and prevents scarring. If rash occurs following the application of an antibiotic ointment, discontinue its use.
- Apply a bandage. Cover the wound with a bandage with sterilized gauze and paper tape. Covering the wound keeps it clean and protects it from acquiring infections. (2)
- Frequently dress the wound. In order to protect the wound, it must be kept clean; therefore, frequent dressing is necessitated at least once a day. If in any instance the dressing becomes dirty or wet, change it as soon as possible.
- Get a tetanus shot. (3) A tetanus shot is necessary if it has been more than 5 years since your last shot. Additionally, if the wound is deep and dirty, seek professional medical guidance for a potential tetanus vaccination.
- Keep an eye out for infections. If you notice any warmth, swelling, exudate, and pain near the infection site, speak to your local health provider for treatment options best suitable for your needs.
- Seek professional medical help. Depending on the depth and location of the wound or cut, a visit to the ER or doctor may be required to thoroughly clean and close (stitches/staples) the injury.
First Aid for Animal Bites and Stings
Animal bites and stings release certain toxins in the body that trigger an allergic reaction. Some of the common symptoms associated with type 1 hypersensitivity/allergic reaction to an animal bite or sting are:
- Itching of the skin
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal cramping
- Anaphylactic shock in severe cases
Here’s what you need to do immediately after getting bitten or stung by an animal or insect:
- Temporarily relocate to a safer location where the source of bites and stings are limited.
- If visible, remove the stinger. This can be done with a pair of tweezers.
- Immediately use soap and water to the affected area.
- Use an ice-pack, cool compress, or cool cloth on the bite or sting site. Doing this reduces the pain and subsequent swelling. Do not apply ice directly to the wound as it can further damage your skin and may even cause frostbite. For the same reason, don’t apply the ice pack to the wound for prolonged periods at a stretch.
- If the bite or sting is on the extremities, elevate the affected extremity.
- Several times a day, apply calamine lotion, 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone cream, or a DIY baking soda paste to the bite or sting until the symptoms improve. (4)
- If itching occurs, an antihistamine such as Benadryl lotion can be useful.
Treating Sprains, Strains, and Spasms
A strain is an injury to a muscle, whereas a sprain is the stretching or tearing of a ligament.
The most common locations of a sprain are the ankles, wrists, knees, and thumb. Associated signs and symptoms of a sprain include hearing a pop at the onset of injury, pain, swelling, bruising, and limited mobility of the affected joint.
Nonserious sprains can be managed at home with supportive care, rest, compression, and elevation. Serious sprains may require repair of the affected ligaments via surgical procedures.
Seeking medical help for unresolved symptoms is important for the improvement of this injury. To minimize risk, stretching before and after any physical activity can be beneficial.
The following are the first-aid measures for muscle spasms:
- Ice or heat application
- Mild exercise
- Nonprescription analgesics or pain relievers
- Anti-inflammatory topical creams for swelling
- Seeking professional help
Treatment for Minor Burns
A minor burn is any burn that is less than 8 cm in diameter (3 inches) and is usually characterized by pain and blisters.
Here are some first-aid measures to manage minor burns:
- Apply cool running water and/or a wet compress to the affected area until the pain is reduced.
- If the burn is in a location where jewelry is worn (bracelet, ring, anklet), immediately take off the jewelry before subsequent swelling occurs to minimize post-burn complications.
- Blisters should remain intact. In the event of a ruptured blister, immediately apply antibiotic ointment. If rash occurs following ointment use, discontinue using the ointment.
- Aloe vera (5) or a moisturizer with cooling properties can be applied to the cooled burn to provide pain relief.
- Place a bandage and sterile gauze on the treated burn to protect the blister and to prevent air exposure, which can cause pain.
- If needed, use over-the-counter prescriptions such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief.
Stop a Nosebleed at Home
Nosebleeds are common; therefore, knowing what to do when it occurs can be very helpful.
Here are the steps to stop a nosebleed:
- Sit in an upright and forward position. An upright and forward position can be beneficial in promptly treating a nosebleed. Sitting upright reduces blood pressure in the nasal veins, effectively controlling the nosebleed.
- Lean forward. This prevents blood from being swallowed, which can upset the stomach lining and cause additional symptomatic discomfort.
- Lightly blow your nose. This can flush out debris and blood clots, making it easier to breathe. Subsequently, in each nostril, spray a nasal decongestant containing oxymetazoline.
- Pinch your nose. For 10–15 minutes, use your index finger and thumb to lightly pinch your nose and breathe through your mouth. Pinching can stop a nose bleed by increasing pressure to the nasal septum. If bleeding persists, pinch your nose again for another 10–15 minutes. If bleeding still occurs, seek professional medical help.
When to See a Doctor
A doctor or 911 should be contacted if the person’s airway, breathing, or circulation is severely compromised. In other words, a pulse cannot be felt, respiratory rate is low to absent, or the person is losing significant blood or becomes unresponsive.
During first aid, it is crucial to remember the ABCs – airways, breathing, and circulation. Immediate assistance and being the first to aid someone suffering from injury or illness can help save their life, prevent further harm from occurring, and aid in the recovery of injury or illness.
Having some form of first-aid certification training, basic medical training, or first-aid knowledge is not only ideal but also helpful in identifying signs and symptoms that someone may be in harm’s way.
Recognizing manifestations such as sudden-onset chest pain, shortness of breath, or falling unconscious can help avoid sometimes fatal situations. When applying first aid, you must also be cautious of any potential dangers to yourself and to stay alert and composed before medical help arrives.