Although designed to help, many first-aid myths can actually cause more harm than good. Most of these myths come from a time when people didn’t know any better, or information from medical professionals hadn’t reached the masses yet. However, more and more medical professionals and emergency responders are speaking out and busting common first-aid myths.
It’s important to mention though that, with any hazardous situation, ALWAYS CONTACT EMERGENCY SERVICES FIRST. Keep calm and explain your situation to the responder, making sure to give as much detail as you can.
First-Aid Myth: A common old wives’ tale about snake bites involves slicing the wound and sucking out the venom. The theory goes that, by extracting the venom out of the bite, you can prevent it from circulating into the blood stream.
First-Aid Reality: Once a snake injects its venom, it’s immediately absorbed into the body. Cutting the bite open aggravates the situation by exposing the wound to complications. Instead, the best way to help is to call emergency services IMMEDIATELY. While waiting, keep the bite area below the level of the heart. This slows down the venom from spreading to the rest of the body. Constricting the bite area can also do more harm than good, as this could aid in tissue death.
With most snake bites, its important to identify the snake, as this can help first responders and hospitals determine the type of anti-venom to administer. However, emergency services in snake-infested areas can sometimes identify the type of snake via the bite marks.
First-Aid Myth: When stung by a bee, do not remove the stinger by any means other than by scraping.
First-Aid Reality: It doesn’t matter how you remove the stinger, what matters is that you remove it immediately, regardless of method. Bee stingers will continue to pump venom into a person even when it detaches from the bee. By keeping a stinger inside the wound, the person suffers more adverse reactions, which might even cause anaphylactic shock. As soon as a person is stung by a bee, immediately remove the stinger, whether it’s by scraping or pulling, and move away from the area as soon as possible. Bees release a scent when they feel endangered, which calls in more bees to its location.
First-Aid Myth: If a person ingests anything poisonous, do what you can to make that person vomit so that the offending material is expelled from their body before it can do damage.
First-Aid Reality: Depending on the substance, making a poison victim vomit can do more harm than good, as the acidic nature of the vomit plus the poison can burn their airways. If the poison is caustic or causes a burning/irritating sensation, make the person drink a small amount of milk to help neutralize the poison. Identify the substance, and contact emergency services immediately. If the person is unconscious or unable to swallow, wait for first responders to arrive.
First-Aid Myth: If a person is having a heart attack, soothe their breathing problems by making them lie down.
First-Aid Reality: This one is a potentially dangerous myth, as making a person having a heart attack lie down could kill them. Lying down makes breathing more difficult, so have the person seated instead, with their legs elevated. If they’re conscious, have the person chew on an aspirin. If that person is allergic to aspirin or has been advised not to take aspirin by a doctor, make them take nitroglycerin instead.
If the person is unconscious, begin CPR immediately. Or, if an automated external defibrillator is available, follow the device instructions, and use it as soon as possible.
First-Aid Myth: For any wound with heavy bleeding, it’s best to apply a very tight tourniquet above the wound area to stop the bleeding.
First-Aid Reality: This one is a bit tricky, as tourniquets are very useful, if applied correctly. Unfortunately, many people applying tourniquets think that the tighter it is, the better. A too-tight tourniquet, however, can cause more harm than good as it could cut off circulation completely and cause tissue damage. Instead, apply direct pressure on the wound and keep the area raised, as this will help slow down the bleeding. Only when the bleeding is profuse should a first aider apply a tourniquet, and even then, the tourniquet should be applied not too tightly.
First-Aid Myth: If someone is choking, stick your fingers in their mouth and take the obstruction out by hand.
First-Aid Reality: Putting any unsanitized foreign object, your hands included, into anyone’s mouth can cause complications such as infections. It may also push the obstruction further, making the person choke more. If a person is choking, dislodge the obstruction by delivering sharp smacks between the person’s shoulder blades. If this fails, apply the Heimlich maneuver.
Note, however, that the Heimlich maneuver should only be done by someone who is familiar with the proper way of performing it, as an improper Heimlich maneuver can cause internal damage like broken ribs or perforated airways.
First-Aid Myth: Make sure that the person having the seizure doesn’t bite or swallow their tongue by placing an object in between their teeth.
First-Aid Reality: This myth stems from the fact that some people DO bite their tongues during a seizure, creating a scary red foam as the blood mixes with their saliva. However, putting any foreign object in their mouth could break their teeth, or in worse scenarios, make them swallow the object. It’s physically impossible for anyone to swallow their own tongue.
If a person is having a seizure, lay the person down on their side. Make sure that their head is safe by placing it on your lap or putting a pillow underneath their head. Remove any other objects around them to minimize other hazards. Timing how long the seizure lasts can also help first-responders and doctors.
Again, with all of these situations, your first move should be to contact emergency medical services as soon as you are clear of any external hazards.
Maintain your presence of mind, and remember that not all myths are to be believed.