Sooner or later, we all face a medical problem that calls for immediate first aid and clear thinking. Whether it’s a child’s skinned knee or a relative’s ankle sprain, knowing what to do next is a health skill everyone needs.
The guidelines below may help you to be better prepared to handle some situations. Keep the following in mind:
- Never attempt to treat head, neck or back injuries yourself.
- Let common sense and good judgment prevail.
- Check seemingly minor injuries or bites periodically for infection.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of comforting and reassuring victims while waiting for medical attention.
Minor cuts and scrapes. Wash the wound with warm water and mild soap, then apply medicated ointment and cover with a bandage to heal most small cuts. Change dressing daily; keep clean and dry to prevent infection.
Bruises. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling. Take aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief.
Bleeding. Apply pressure to the wound with a thick, clean cloth and raise the wound above the heart. If bleeding is severe or isn’t controlled in five minutes or if the wound is very dirty, longer than an inch or gaping, get immediate medical care. When aiding a victim, place a barrier between you and the blood to avoid disease transmission. Seek medical attention if a cut to the face looks as if it may leave a scar.
Puncture wounds. Don’t self-treat deep puncture wounds since they run the risk of deep tissue injury or infection.
Burns. Run cool water over minor burns, immerse in cold water or wrap the burned area in a cold, wet cloth for about 10 minutes or until pain subsides. Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage. Call your doctor if blisters form. Burns that cover more than a two-inch area and major burns require immediate medical attention. Burns from chemicals and electricity always need advanced medical care.
Animal bites. If skin is broken, wash the wound with soap and water. See a doctor: A tetanus shot may be required. For bites from wild or stray animals, get immediate medical attention.
Insect stings. Remove a stinger with tweezers or by swiping it away with your fingernail or a credit card. Wash the area with soapy water and apply a cold pack to reduce swelling. If the victim shows signs of an allergic reaction (such as difficulty breathing), call for immediate medical help.
Poisoning. Before doing anything, call the National Poison Control Hotline at
1-800-222-1222. Only induce vomiting if so instructed.
Shock. Someone suffering from shock may have cold, clammy skin; be weak; be confused; have a rapid heartbeat; or breathe deeply and irregularly or have shallow breath. Keep the victim warm and lying down on his or her back until help arrives. Do not give the victim anything to drink.
Electrical injuries. Do not touch someone who has just been electrocuted—the current may pass through you. While waiting for help to arrive, try to turn off the source of electricity.
Sprains and strains. To treat sprains and strains, follow the RICE method: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Apply ice packs or cold-water compresses to relieve swelling. Wrap the injury in an elastic bandage and keep it elevated above the heart.
Broken bones. Quickly call for emergency assistance. It’s best not to move the person or attempt to straighten a broken bone.
First-aid items for your home and car include:
- a first-aid manual
- emergency phone numbers
- a list of allergies and prescriptions for each family member
- an over-the-counter pain reliever
- a first-aid ointment
- syrup of ipecac
- a thermometer, tweezers and small scissors
- various size bandages and gauze
- adhesive tape
- a cold pack
- antiseptic wipes
- latex gloves