First Aid is a skill that comes in handy in all kinds of situations, from day-to-day accidents to more serious or even major incidents such as a natural disaster. Whether dealing with everyday mishaps or more serious injuries from car crashes or house fires, knowing how to react quickly and effectively can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. First Aid skills are vital for unexpected emergencies, and a valuable skill to learn. Read on to get useful tips about avoiding common first aid mistakes, so you can be prepared if you ever find yourself in a crisis.
Do Not Assume The Person Is Conscious
It’s not always easy to tell whether someone is actually fully conscious and aware of their surroundings – it’s not always as obvious as you might think. Some common signs that someone is not fully aware of their surroundings are if someone is struggling to keep their eyes open, they have slurred speech, or their muscles and limbs are limp.
Check the person’s breathing if you notice any of these symptoms. If a person is not responding to you and seems to be struggling to breathe, they might actually be in cardiac arrest. At that point, you should call 000, lay them on the ground, and start CPR – chest compressions and rescue breaths – until emergency services arrive.
Don’t Breathe In Dust Or Smoke From Flames
A common mistake people make is to underestimate the risk from breathing in dust or smoke.
If the fire is small, like a kitchen fire, you can often use a lid to smother the flame, turn off the stove, and then use the lid (or a similar object) to cover the pan. However, trying to put out a fire in an enclosed space like an office building or home doesn’t always go according to plan, and in some cases can even cause the fire to spread more quickly. If that happens, you should evacuate immediately and call for help.
If you cannot evacuate from an enclosed space on fire, try to find a cloth (perhaps a hand towel, or spare clothing) and wet it to put over your mouth; this will help you avoid breathing in too much smoke. You can also create barriers with anything around you , such as desks or curtains). It’s also a good idea to lie flat on your stomach to avoid the smoke while waiting for rescue – the smoke is hot so it normally rises towards the roof, meaning the air close to the ground is safer to breathe. Stay low and stay calm; if you need to help other people do so low on the floor.
Don’t Tape Over Bleeding Wounds
One of the most common first aid mistakes made by people tending to a cut or laceration is to put tape directly over a bleeding wound.
Although in a pinch something like duct tape could be used to seal up a wound, it’s more of a last resort than a good idea. When you tape over a bleeding wound, it can trap in fluids (rather than absorbing them, as a bandage would). It’s also not sterile – and both of these facts increase the risk of infection. Some tape isn’t sticky enough to remain stuck to skin (especially not if there’s blood), and tapes that will stick in those conditions often stick so aggressively that they can irritate the skin, and potentially re-open the wound when it’s removed.
Instead of taping a wound shut, in an emergency you’re better off cleaning the wound and then applying some gauze (or a clean piece of towel or cloth if you’re short of medical supplies) and using the tape to bind that in place. This can more easily be changed once proper medical supplies are available.
Of course, if you have access to a first aid kit, using pressure dressings like an ACE bandage to help stop bleeding is a far better solution.
Treating bleeds and other injuries is always covered in First Aid training, so if you are unsure what to do for a bleeding injury, you should consider investing a day in a first aid course.
Do Not Apply Ice To Burns
One of the more common First Aid mistakes is to use ice on burns. This can make a burn worse and possibly even lead to frostbite. Instead, use cool or cold water on the burn area – preferably from a tap (flowing water is far more effective than ice).
It’s also best to avoid removing the clothes that are around the burn area. Let paramedics cut the clothes around the burn – with some burn injuries, the cloth can damage the skin if you try to remove it.
Do Not Remove Shrapnel From The Body
If you or someone else is seriously injured by an object embedded in the skin or flesh, it’s normally important to leave the object where it is. Removing it can be medically dangerous, as it can lead to major blood loss or internal injury – in a situation like this, the object often acts as a plug in the wound, limiting blood-loss. The rule of thumb is never to remove objects that are protruding until a doctor has evaluated them. Objects still embedded in the body should not be touched, but if it is protruding in a way that is inhibiting the person’s removal from the site, then you can cut or break the larger end without removing it.
If you’ve ever watched movies where people are hit by arrows, and they break the end off rather than pulling the arrow out… that’s why!
The Bottom Line
It is always smart to be prepared for emergencies. Some of the most common first aid mistakes include not seeking help soon enough, indecision about what to do, and helping a casualty despite the hazards (thus becoming a casualty themselves). However, people’s biggest mistake is assuming they’ll know what to do in an emergency.
The best way to avoid making any of the errors mentioned is to take a First Aid course. It only takes a day, costs no more than filling up your car nowadays, and there are venues on offer all over Australia, in all capital cities and many regional centres.
If someone near you is involved in a medical emergency, don’t let yourself become a cautionary tale. Get trained with the skills and knowledge you’ll need to make a difference!