8 Common First Aid Mistakes And Myths That Make Things Worse

—What Would You Do? Your Misconceptions Could Cause Further Injury!

Emergencies do not come with warning bells. They strike at unexpected moments and your response or lack thereof could be the determinant in how things come out in the end.

How much do you think you know about first aid and proper emergency response? If you feel unprepared you can take programs associated with a health information technology degree to educate yourself. Most people think they know quite a lot, but most of what they have learned consists of myths that could actually do more harm than good.

Put yourself to the test and seriously ask yourself: what would you do in these situations?

1. A child pulls a pot of boiling water off the stove or sticks their hand on a hot burner

Do you put butter or mayonnaise on the burn? Hurriedly remove the child’s clothing because it is stuck to the burn? Get out the ice?

hand-burnThose are the common reactions in the case of a burn, but all of them are myths.

Butter, mayo or other types of grease may cause even more damage to tender skin and pulling clothing or other materials stuck to the burn could damage the tissue or pull the skin off completely.

The correct action is to rinse gently with cool water and coat the burn with antibiotic ointment. If the burn is on a sensitive area of the body such as the face or if there are a lot of blisters, then go to the ER and do not pop the blisters.

You also want to seek medical assistance if a burn completely circles a limb or is larger than your hand.

2. Someone is having a seizure

Do you move them? Do you hold them still? Do you force open their mouth with your finger or another object, or put something between their teeth? Do you simply watch them carefully and time the seizure?

seizure1Again, most of these answers are common first aid mistakes that could lead to injury of the person seizing.

Prying the mouth open or moving them could lead to injuries, such as muscle tears. The only reason they should be moved is if they are in an unsafe place and will likely fall off something and hurt themselves.

Try to put them on their side and call 911. You may want to unbutton the top of their shirt or their belt to help them breathe and try to time the seizure activity. If the person is a known epileptic, emergency services only need to be called if it lasts for longer than five minutes.

Never hold someone having a seizure unless you are preventing them from injury!

3. You step in a hole in the yard and sprain your ankle

Is it ice or heat you use? Do you prop it up? Rush to the ER?

ankle-sprainThis is a very common injury that many people blow off without seeking medical attention.

In most cases that is okay, but you do need to know how to treat it and when to seek help.

The biggest problem is remembering when to use ice and when to apply heat.

For an ankle sprain you want to apply ice. Heat will actually increase the swelling and could slow down the healing process. If it is painful to put any weight down on the foot then it may be a fracture and you should see a doctor.

4. You are taking a walk through the woods and someone is bitten by a snake

Do you rip off your shirt and wrap the wound? Suck out the poison and spit it on the ground? Get out your pocket knife and carefully cut the wound open so the poison can drain?

You guessed it! These are all myths that can actually be quite dangerous and lead to more injury than is actually necessary. If you cut the wound even slightly you may slice tendons or nerves that cause more damage. Tourniquets often lead to the blood circulation being cut off and could lead to the loss of a limb.

The safest response is to immediately splint the wound or wrap it in something clean and get to the ER right away.

5. Your nose suddenly starts bleeding

Should you lean forward and pinch your nose? Or tip your head all the way back so the blood cannot run out?

More importantly, how do you know when it is serious enough to seek medical intervention?

Nose bleeds are not always emergency situations, but they are the source of a major first aid myth. If you answered that you would lean forward and pinch the nose closed, you were actually correct.

The myth is to tip your head all the way back so the blood cannot flow out, but this could be dangerous with a heavy nose bleed that doesn’t stop quickly.

For a nose bleed, lean forward and pinch just underneath the bone. If the bleeding does not stop within five minutes seek medical attention.

6. Your three-year-old gets a hold of the Flintstones vitamins and eats the whole bottle

flintstones-vitaminsDo you assume children’s vitamins are safe and they will just be really healthy for a few weeks?

Do you grab the ipecac from the bathroom and force vomiting? Do you simply run to the ER?

In the case of vitamins, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Children die every year from an overdose of iron and children’s vitamins are a main source of iron. For poisons in general, you want to keep the product that was swallowed and call poison control immediately. Depending on what was swallowed different actions will need to be taken, so you must remain calm enough to speak clearly and hear what you are instructed to do for the child.

It is now advised that all ipecac be thrown out completely. It is no longer considered a safe medical intervention, as some poisons can actually be made worse by vomiting. Also, a patient vomiting can seriously interfere with treatment once they are at the hospital.

7. Someone starts to choke across the dinner table

Do you jump behind them and do the Heimlich maneuver? Hand them their glass and encourage them to drink? Pat them lightly on the back?

Your response to someone choking will depend on whether they are able to talk a little bit or if they cannot make any sound. If they are coughing violently and can speak a little, then it is a partial blockage. If they can only nod their head and/or are turning blue, then it is a full blockage that does require you to jump up and start thrusting upward around their stomach.

The Heimlich maneuver will force air up through the body and help dislodge whatever is choking the person, but only in the case of a full blockage.

If some air is getting through, then encourage them to continue coughing and stay close by, but you do not need to take action unless they start to have breathing trouble or turn blue. Do not give them anything to drink, as the fluid will take up what little space is left for air to pass through. In most cases a partial blockage can be coughed out, but if it becomes a full blockage then once again the Heimlich maneuver will be necessary.

Do not perform the Heimlich on a child less than a year old.

8. Your child suddenly has an extremely high fever

child-feverDo you give them Tylenol and wrap them in a warm blanket to sweat it out? Rub them down with rubbing alcohol? Put them in a tub full of cold water?

While there are traces of good advice in two of these options, none of them are the best route to take with a fever.

The biggest myth is that rubbing a child’s chest or forehead with rubbing alcohol will break a fever.

The child will actually breathe in the alcohol, and their young systems are extremely sensitive to this substance. It is not healthy for them.

While there may be some truth to the old wife’s tale of sweating out a fever, it is not a good thing to try with a child. Sudden high fevers can lead to febrile seizures, so putting them in a cool bath (not cold!) and giving them something like children’s Tylenol to break the fever (if they are old enough for medication) is a better course of action. If you cannot get the fever down or if it goes above 104 Fahrenheit, you should seek medical attention.

How many of these myths did you think were just standard first aid procedure? How many missteps might you have made if these things occurred in your home? Any of these things could happen and cause minor injuries that do not rise to the occasion of a true emergency, but you never know when something seriously tragic may happen.

The ability to think on your feet and take the safest and most effective course of action is essential, especially in situations where you may be the only person around to help someone in need.

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  1. Phil says:

    One of the best treatments for burns is to dip a cloth in bleach and cover the burn, I couldn’t believe it until I burnt myself it immediately relieved the pain and left no marks



  2. @bethbellor says:

    When my son was 3, he ate a lot of children’s vitamins with iron and I did not find out until 4 hours later. Charcoal had no effect, and he ended up spending 2 nights in the hospital. Iron level was 496; at 500 he’d have been transferred to the nearest PICU. When your children fuss about someone not sharing a treat you don’t know about, LISTEN.

  3. russell says:

    actually you should NOT put antibiotic ointment on a burn because it will just suffocate it. burns need to breathe, puss and bleed. you should rinse with semi-cool water, dry thoroughly and apply silvadene cream.

  4. Graham G says:

    All excellent tips. But Phil’s suggestion (commented earlier) of a cloth soaked in bleach on a burn????? I strongly suspect that in the wrong circumstances this could be lethal!

  5. Kelsey says:

    A way better treatment for any sort of (non-open wound type) burn is actually Tiger Balm. Like that stuff you rub on sore muscles? The menthol and camphor act as a pain killer while helping the skin to actually relax. Running any burn under cold water does nothing but shock the cells and cause it to linger and hurt longer. Tiger Balm can take care of a blister in a matter of 24 hours.

  6. Roger Cloud says:

    You’re making a huge mistake. You should not at all talk about the things that people SHOULDN’T do, because that may be exactly/only what they remember! You should only say exactly what they SHOULD do, so that’s all that they can possibly remember from your site. That includes all the erroneous after-comments. You MUST change your site, so that only the correct actions are presented.

    Please consider this very carefully. People need the bottom-line correct information, and don’t need to wade through a bunch of discussions and opinions, and ESPECIALLY don’t need representations of what are the wrong actions to take, even if represented in the context of mistaken attitudes. Remember how people remember things! When you reiterate the incorrect information, you’re perpetrating the same myths you would prefer to correct!!!

  7. jason says:

    I guess I can’t be sure now, but in the Boy Scouts they taught us to tightly tie a shirt/bandage/whatever above a snake bite wound.

    **NOT** a tourniquet, just tied firmly/snugly. You should be able to get a finger or two above the wound. This should slow circulation to the affected area without cutting it off, and should slow the venom down a bit.

    The other **REALLY** important thing about snake bites is to take things slow. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Don’t run, don’t power walk, and don’t panic. Keep your (or whoever got bit) heart rate as low as possible. The faster your pulse, the faster the venom spreads.

  8. […] You can find other first aid myths exposed here. […]

  9. […] people commonly believe to be the right course of action? Tell us about it in the comments below. Common First Aid Mistakes and Myths That Make Things Worse […]

  10. […] people commonly believe to be the right course of action? Tell us about it in the comments below. Common First Aid Mistakes and Myths That Make Things Worse […]

  11. […] people commonly believe to be the right course of action? Tell us about it in the comments below. Common First Aid Mistakes and Myths That Make Things Worse […]

  12. BrentRN says:

    I would recommend ibuprofen (Advil) over acetaminophen (Tylenol) for breaking a fever. It is just as effective and is safer. Acetaminophen has too much risk of liver damage at high doses. I still recommend acetaminophen as an analgesic for some pains such as ear aches.

  13. Dude says:

    Roger um your reading skills need some work its and article about the Myths. If he didnt put the myths there would be no reason for the article. This is not 8 First Aid tips but 8 myths and what actually to do.

  14. Ralph says:

    Roger, calm your ass down. This article is fine. If someone is dumb and doesn’t want to READ the article and clearly look over what is CORRECT and INCORRECT, then let them do the wrong thing like an idiot.

    How else do you learn whats wrong? If, for example, this article didn’t say “Don’t lean your head back with a nosebleed”, people wouldn’t know that’s the wrong thing to do.

  15. […] Common First Aid Mistakes and Myths That Make Things Worse [HealthWatchCenter] Tagged:first aidhealth […]

  16. Africano says:

    If you have HIV / AIDS having sex with a virgin girl will NOT cure it. Many bush doctors say it will but are wrong.

  17. Delete Phil says:

    Bleach burns even healthy skin. Phil is lying that he put it on a burn.

  18. Rose says:

    Roger Cloud has a very interesting point. People remember whatever is repeated the most. This is how advertising works.

    Essentially, by listing myths you are asking people to remember facts and also remember that some are true and others are false. That’s twice as hard as remembering one list of all true information.

  19. […] people commonly believe to be the right course of action? Tell us about it in the comments below. Common First Aid Mistakes and Myths That Make Things Worse […]

  20. […] people commonly believe to be the right course of action? Tell us about it in the comments below. Common First Aid Mistakes and Myths That Make Things Worse […]

  21. Phil's brother says:

    In addition to bleach, I’ve found you can treat a burn by putting gasoline on it, then setting fire to the wound. Kills all the bacteria.

  22. […] 8 Common First Aid Mistakes And Myths That Make Things Worse Posted on July 10, 2009 by coptermedic From HealthWatchCenter: […]

  23. DJ says:

    That should be “old wives’ tale” instead of “old wife’s tale.” The wife is not old, but the tales are, and they are tales of multiple wives.

  24. […] people commonly believe to be the right course of action? Tell us about it in the comments below. Common First Aid Mistakes and Myths That Make Things Worse […]

  25. the old rang says:

    “so putting them in a cool bath (not cold!) and giving them something like children’s Tylenol to break the fever (if they are old enough for medication) is a better course of action. If you cannot get the fever down or if it goes above 104 Fahrenheit, you should seek medical attention.”

    Considering all the hoopla (after over 50 years of knowledge in the medical community) about the REAL dangers of Tylenol…

    Noting the number of deaths per year from acetaminophen (rated higher than alcohol for liver damage), I find that recommendation… curious.

    I realise the vested interests, such as the media, AMA, and certain politicos (note how not in the news this subject is), but, recommending Tylenol without MAJOR cautions, is not safe.

  26. Angelina says:

    Hello, I’m a first-time reader (referred here by Lifehacker). I found this article very informative and useful, but am a little worried that it may backfire.

    As you may not be aware, cognitive science study shows that the usual practice of listing myths and then debunking them can actually serve to reinforce the myth in the mind of the reader, leading them to remember the myth but not the correct information.

    The Washington Post has an excellent article explaining this phenomenon ( http://msl1.mit.edu/furdlog/docs/washpost/2007-09-04_washpost_myths_knowledge_policy.pdf , unfortunately it’s a PDF).

    Your article has already been written and posted, but I hope that you can accept a polite suggestion regarding the future format of similar articles to come. Perhaps instead of listing the myth and then debunking it, you could list the scenarios, offer the proper advice, and then mention the formerly-held beliefs (perhaps accompanied by the history of the myths). This could help avoid the very thing you are trying to prevent – someone burning themself and thinking “I read something about butter on burns…”

    Sorry for the long-windedness, it’s a slow day at work 🙂

  27. f says:

    Popsicles to bring a fever down is much better.. They give them at sick kids when our daughter had a febrile seisure..

  28. Ramius says:

    The best advice I can give to all of you who think this article will cause people to do the wrong thing and arguing over what is right, and what is wrong is this.

    Get a good first aid kit for your home. Then go to a book store, or order one online, a book about first aid that is small enough to use as a reference IN the first aid kit. This will avoid any confusion.

    If there is still confusion after reading a properly published first aid manual – you probably shouldn’t be providing first aid in the first place.

    Number one rule about health – If you don’t know something – leave it to professionals – not websites.

  29. sytram says:

    In question 1, you do not state why getting out the ice would cause damage.
    Can you please explain?

  30. Nick says:

    You’re a little short-sighted on your advice on burns.
    Damage continues to be done to the cells until ALL the heat is removed from the burn. The BEST method is to immerse the affected area into a bucket of ice water (fill the bucket 50% ice & 50% water… and keep swirling the ice in the water as you immerse the burn (this keeps the cooling affect active) NOTE: do not put ice directly on the burn… for as soon as the ice begins to melt… the water becomes an insulating layer and does not cool as fast.
    It is best to keep the burn immersed until all the heat is out of the burn area(you may need to periodically remove and reinsert the burn into the water because it WILL get very cold)
    ANY salve, ointment, antibiotic, wrap, gauze… etc is not advisable until ALL the heat is out of the wound… for without doing this… you’re still allowing more cells to be killed!!! (Thus allowing more damage!!!)
    I was a glassblower for 25 years… have suffered 2nd & 3rd degree burns (thankfully never over large areas)… and I don’t have ANY scars that anyone can find.
    I was in the “trenches” on this one… and know the facts… not some hypothetical textbook medical education from some classroom.

  31. andy w says:

    Whilst it may be true that “people” remember myths as much as truths etc. it is rather funny that all the people pointing this out obviously believe it doesn’t apply to them.
    Anyway, I certainly could NOT care less if someone drowns their kid by dunking their head in a bucket of mayo because they read this or any other article.We really need to stop worrying about what stupid people may do or “sending the wrong message” to them – they’re beyond help anyway.

  32. CH says:

    Acetaminophen (Tylenol) in moderation is fine. The problem occurs when people do not pay attention or follow directions. Also ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) is not better for a fever then acetaminophen (Tylenol). Two completely different medications that are used for different purposes.

  33. […] 8 Common First Aid Mistakes And Myths That Make Things Worse » Health Watch Center (tags: article first-aid tips) […]

  34. […] 8 Common First Aid Mistakes And Myths That Make Things Worse » Health Watch Center. […]

  35. Philippa says:

    I was a nurse for a year and then spent two years as a pharmacy dispensing technician. Putting ANY kind of ointment or cream on a burn can make it worse. Holding the affected part under cold running water is the best thing.

  36. Lauren says:

    Nick, posted above me, is absolutely correct with the burns thing. I’m a dry-cleaner and I work with a lot of very hot irons, steam presses, chemicals, my work space is full of things that have the potential to burn you.

    You never put anything on a burn, except for cold, running or moving water. As long as heat remains, the cells will continue to be damaged deeper and deeper in the skin. I’ve heard the myth of putting oil on a burn before, but anyone stupid enough to do that frankly deserves the pain.

  37. […] | Health Watch Center 翻译:SweetRiver […]

  38. […] 8 Common First Aid Mistakes And Myths That Make Things Worse […]

  39. dan says:

    Really useful tips that are good to know.

  40. Joe Schmoe says:

    1. Saying do not give the Tylenol because it is bad for the liver is just plain stupid. It is fine to give as long as you follow guidelines and it is given in moderation. All you stupid people reading into headlines about how bad Tylenol is need to finish reading the articles that say IT CAN CAUSE LIVER PROBLEMS IF TOO MUCH IS TAKEN.

    2. Philippa, if you truly were a nurse, why the hell would you take a pay decrease to a small job like a pharmacy tech?

  41. […] 来源:Health Watch Center | 翻译:SweetRiver 前言:搞IT的同志们还是要多关注下健康的,不能指望床上运动帮你锻炼身体。LifeHacker上推荐的这篇文章我觉得还是值得一看,象流鼻血的正确做法我就一直被大人骗了接近30年~~~,o(╯□╰)o。 […]

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  44. […] 8 Common First Aid Mistakes And Myths That Make Things Worse » Health Watch Center […]

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