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13 First Aid Myths That Could Get Someone Hurt (Or Worse)

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13 First Aid Myths That Could Get Someone Hurt (Or Worse)Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor before using any of the herbs and/or remedies mentioned in this article.

Hollywood and Dr. Google have made everyday people into self-proclaimed medical experts. People with no experience in the medical field know terms like “tension pneumothorax ” because they heard it on television. They know just how to fix it, too. Just jab a pen or a straw into a person’s chest, right?

Then there are all the people who grew up with that one relative who had some crazy ideas about treating an injury. Things like putting butter on a burn come to mind. Older generations were the victims of many old wives’ tales that never should have been passed down.

These two groups form an army of medical monsters that spread dangerous misinformation everywhere they go. Although some of the misinformation is relatively harmless, much of it can be life-threatening. To prevent future generations from learning major first aid mistakes (and possibly using them on us), in this article we will debunk some of the most common first aid myths. Pass along this valuable information and you may just save a life.

1. Suck The Venom Out of a Snake Bite

There are a couple of reasons this is a huge mistake. For one, once you’ve been bitten, the venom is pumping through your blood at the same rate as your heart, which means the damage is already done. There is no possible way you could actually suck out all the venom. Secondly, by trying to suck out the venom, you are only delaying treatment. Instead, sit down, try to relax, and call 911.

You want to keep your heart rate slow to help reduce the spread of the venom. If you have to get somewhere with cell phone service, be sure to walk. Don’t run! Also avoid drinking alcohol, caffeine, or taking any painkillers, all of which thin the blood and make it move faster and easier. Don’t waste your money on snake bite kits. They don’t work. Only the appropriate antivenom can help you.

2. Put Ice on a Burn

Don’t do this! It will only result in further damage to the already burned skin. Don’t wrap it, either, because wrapping a minor burn can prolong the burning by trapping in the heat. First and second degree burns should be run under or submerged in cool water.

Third-degree burns are much more severe and require immediate medical attention. Leave the burn exposed to the air until the burning pain stops. You can dampen a towel and put it over the injury if needed. Once the burning stops, wrap gauze over the area if it is at risk of getting dirty.

3. Apply a Tourniquet to a Bleeding Arm or Leg

Unless you are dealing with a main artery, you never want to use a tourniquet. Applying pressure is the best way to stop bleeding without causing further damage. A tourniquet will cut off all blood supply to the limb, which can result in a loss of the limb altogether.

Use clean towels, gauze pads, or your bare hands if that is all you have and apply direct pressure to the wound. You may have to hold pressure for 5 to 30 minutes until the blood can clot and the bleeding stops on its own. Tourniquets are absolute last resorts.

4. Drink Alcohol To Fix Hypothermia

Despite how warm and tingly a stiff drink makes you feel when it is going down, it doesn’t actually warm your body. In fact, it actually chills you. Enough alcohol and you won’t even realize you are cold and will just fall asleep from the hypothermia and the alcohol-induced sleepiness.

This will lead to death. Instead, drink warm soups, broth, and even coffee to help warm the body from the inside out. Keeping the head and feet warm is another way to help contain body heat.

5. Apply Heat to a Sprain

This is not going to help and can actually encourage more swelling by opening the blood vessels. The blood will pool in the area and make the swelling very uncomfortable. Your best option is ice. Keep the injured area on ice for 15 minutes every hour to keep the swelling to a minimum.

6. Rub Alcohol On Someone Suffering From Heat Stroke or High Fever

This isn’t going to do anything for the internal body temperature which is causing the person to feel ill. In the old days, alcohol was poured onto a towel and then rubbed over a feverish person’s skin.

This makes the person feel cooler but can actually induce shivering, which raises the body temperature. A cool, not cold, compress applied to the back of the neck and forehead is your best option.

7. Urinate on a Jellyfish Sting To Reduce Pain

You can thank the show “Friends” for spreading this myth far and wide. In reality, peeing on a jellyfish sting could make it even more painful by causing the jellyfish stingers to release more venom. Instead, rinse the area with seawater (not fresh water), and apply vinegar or a paste of baking soda and seawater to the area.

This should minimize the pain. After that, gently scrape off the stingers with a credit card. When you’re done, take a hot shower and try applying ice packs or calamine lotion to ease the pain.

8. Put Something in a Seizing Person’s Mouth

This isn’t going to help anybody, let alone the person having a seizure. They cannot physically swallow their tongue and putting something in the mouth just means they may bite down or swallow the object. Instead, roll the person onto their side and, if possible, put a pillow under their head to keep them from hitting it against the floor.

9. Lean Your Head Back To Stop a Nosebleed

This myth probably began with mothers who didn’t want their kids to ruin their shirts. If you like drinking blood, go ahead and go with this myth. Just be warned that with all that blood going down your throat, it could get in your windpipe or irritate your stomach.

You’re much better off leaning forward. As you do that, pinch the soft part of your nose, just above the nostrils. Do this for at least 15 minutes while breathing through your mouth. Be sure to stay upright and don’t lie down or lean back.

Do not lean forward or blow your nose for several hours after the nosebleed has stopped as this could cause it to return.

10. Breathe Into a Paper Bag If You’re Hyperventilating

The idea behind this is that hyperventilating causes you to breathe out too much carbon dioxide, so breathing it into a bag and breathing it back in helps you restore your body’s proper pH levels. The problem is, studies have shown that this method doesn’t work as well as once thought and that it’s better to sit still and try breathing slowly.

Plus, if the person isn’t actually hyperventilating but rather having an asthma attack or a heart attack, breathing into a paper bag will only make things worse.

11. Immediately Giving The Heimlich Maneuver

If you see someone giving the universal signal for choking (hands around the throat), don’t give the Heimlich Maneuver right away. This could make things worse. First, have the person sit down and lean forward, then use the heel of your hand to hit the person between the shoulder blades in an upward motion.

Hopefully this will dislodge whatever is stuck. Do this five times. If that doesn’t work, then move into the Heimlich Maneuver for another five thrusts.

12. Give Mouth-To-Mouth to a Drowning or Heart Attack Victim

In recent years, research has shown that chest compressions are what actually saves a person’s life. Keeping the heart beating is more important than giving breaths. By continually giving deep compressions (to at least 2 inches) at 100 beats per minute, the heart is massaged and the chances of survival are increased.

If you’re not sure how fast that is, think of the chorus of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. It is much easier to learn the hands-only method, which means more people will know this life-saving technique and be willing to save a stranger knowing they don’t have to put their mouths on them.

13. Give Ipecac Syrup To Someone Who Has Ingested Poison

This is very old-school and not recommended anymore. If something is poisonous and burning as it goes down, it is going to be just as bad coming back up. The Poison Control Center will tell you what to do based on what was ingested. If you are in a situation where making that phone call isn’t an option, your best bet is to ride it out.

Some people will consume activated charcoal tablets, but that should only be used with caution. Always try to get medical attention if you are concerned.

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11 Comments

  1. D. Chan on January 30, 2019 at 12:49 am

    Mostly good advice, except for the ipecac advice saying ipecac use is “old school”.

    -If the toxin was caustic going down (or unknown), don’t give ipecac because the toxin is caustic coming back. This is the reason for the hesitation to use ipecac. Give activated charcoal (from drug or health stores, NOT the stuff for cooking), then get medical attention.
    -Otherwise, give ipecac, then get medical attention.
    -It is never “better to just ride it out” than to treat toxic ingestions. That’s how you die from organ (liver, kidney) damage.
    (I’ve been a nurse 20+ years)

  2. Ewen Flint on January 17, 2019 at 7:46 am

    Nosebleed: DO NOT pinch the bridge of the nose, hold the soft part lower down. The bleeding is not coming from capillaries, but from large vessels inside the nose (retired ENT doctor)

    • Alan on January 17, 2019 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks for the input! I just updated the article.

  3. Jason on November 28, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Be careful about downplaying the use of a tourniquet to First Aid providers. Tourniquet application has become more common throughout the years and science has shown that after applying a tourniquet it takes a minimum of 2 hours before nerve or muscle damage occurs. Direct pressure will typically control most venous or capillary bleeding however to free up your hands for other treatments or minimize blood loss by immedialty stopping the flow, tourniquets are a great tool. We should always begin with the basics however discounting tourniquet use due to “potential” nerve damage is not the right approach.

    • Rob on December 10, 2017 at 10:45 am

      True to a point……. Remember, if an injury is severe enough to justify a tourniquet use something that is at least 2″ wide to prevent damaging nerves and blood vessels.

  4. Katherine Echevarria on November 27, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    For the first 24 hours after a sprain, strain or similar injury, apply an ice pack (wrapped in a towel, never directly on the skin) for 15 minutes out of every hour. This will help reduce swelling. After 24 hours, applying heat in the form of a heating pad or similar for 15 minutes at a time (and never directly on the skin but with a layer of clothing or a towel between the heat source and skin) will actually increase blood circulation leading to better/faster healing. Yes, there might be increased swelling, but swelling is the body’s response to injury. Your body knows already how to heal itself. Elevating the affected body part to the level of the heart will help with excess swelling, if this is causing too much pain or discomfort for you. RICE therapy is important initially for injuries (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). For the record, I practice emergency medicine and urgent care.

  5. Oz judge on November 25, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    Here in Australia, we don’t use the Heimlich maneuver, upward back thrusts, getting them to cough as best they can as you hit x5, squeeze the chest between the lower half of breastbone, and on the back opposite x5.

    As to compression-only CPR, when a person has drowned they drown two ways, first, dry drowning. The larynx spasms shut and a mucus plug forms, sopping any more water to the lungs. It stops the air as well, all O2 is used up in this time, as the person becomes unconscious, the muscles relax and the diaphragm pulls the water into the lungs because of the face in under water. thus now effective air in the lungs now, just water.

    As a consequence, breath should be done when a person has drowned. You have to replace the bad air for good, or the water for air.

  6. Clint Harper on September 27, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Mostly a good article. However, there is a problem with the instructions for Choking. I am a National Registry Paramedic, have worked in NC for the past 9 years as a paramedic, worked in Virginia before that. I have been an AHA CPR instructor for most of the past 20 years and giving back blows to an adult choking victim is not part of the program.

    • Jack on September 28, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      Clint is correct on the choking. Back blows often just lodge the item deeper and firmer into the air channel. We stopped the back blows here in Canada in the 1980’s, although for some reason the Red Cross was continuing recommending it.

      • Art Burton on January 16, 2017 at 2:55 pm

        The key element that goes with the back blows is having the casualty leaning forward, preferably parallel to the floor, before administering them. In this position the can’t sucker the item in further. Try it: bend forward and try to take in a deep breath.

  7. Joao Mavioso on September 27, 2016 at 7:04 am

    The #11 explanation is almost as dangerous as applying the Heimlich when not need. First off the person should sit down and SITTING lean forward. After if no result comes from the first you should hit between the shoulder blades in a UPWARD motion. Flat out hittting someones back while chocking is the best way to kill him! Then, of course apply the Heimlich 🙂

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