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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 – If you like drinking blood, go ahead and go with this myth. If you would rather stop the nosebleed, sit up and pinch the bridge of your nose. There are tiny capillaries that run across the bridge. Applying pressure to the area will stop the bleeding, although it can take 15 minutes or so for serious nosebleeds. 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.