As someone who has a medical background, it never ceases to amaze me how many myths about first aid and treatments exist. In this post, I will debunk myths about First Aid that keep resurfacing with each generation. I am going to start with my favourite myth of all.
Myth: Peeing On A Jellyfish Sting
You can pee on yourself all you like, but the urine has zero effect on the stinging sensation you experience after an entanglement with a jellyfish.
Instead: Use saltwater and something other than your fingers, even the sand, to remove any tentacles stuck to the skin and rinse in saltwater. Once you get back to the beach or car, a vinegar solution applied to the site will neutralise the jellyfish toxin.
Myth: Butter Helps On A Burn
You might have been told to put butter on a burn. Don't! This is truly bad advice and the worst thing you can do to a burn! Any greasy substance added to a burn will trap and keep the heat from the burn in the body, exacerbating the burn depth and severity. The deeper the burn, the longer it takes to treat and stop the burn doing more damage, and the longer time to heal the burnt area on the other side.
Instead: Run cold water over the burn to ease the pain for 20 minutes. Then gently dry the area and keep it loosely covered with sterile gauze. Get medical treatment if the burn begins to blister, changes colour, or seems infected. Do not pop blisters! The fluid under the blister has all the healing properties the damaged site needs to repair itself. Popping a blister will open the area to infection and leave a scar.
Myth: CPR Doesn't Work Without Mouth-to-Mouth Rescue Breaths
This is called hands-only or compression-only CPR.
Most people are reluctant to give mouth-to-mouth to a stranger for a good reason. Research has proven that only doing chest compressions works to circulate the blood through the brain, keeping it alive. However, without fresh oxygen filling the lungs given by the person doing CPR, chest compressions only circulate unoxygenated blood that starves the brain, causing it to be starved of oxygen and die.
Hands-only CPR is better than nothing, but rescue breaths are crucial for providing oxygen to the brain and significantly improving the chances of saving the person's life.
Instead: Try mouth to nose, or mouth and nose methods if a CPR mask is not readily available. Hands-only CPR is two simple steps: Call 000 (or send someone to do it) and push hard and fast in the centre of the chest (100 to 120 beats per minute). Learn how to do all forms of CPR and help save a life by taking a First Aid course.
Myth: Tilt Head Backwards When You Have A Nosebleed
Tilting your head backwards or lying down when you have a nosebleed is old, incorrect advice that can cause more problems than it fixes. When the head is tilted backwards, a person swallows the blood into their stomach, vomiting blood or choking on it.
Instead: Sit up, leaning forward slightly. Gently pinch the bridge of the nose just below the bone for 5 to 10 minutes. Apply a cold compress to the bridge of the nose and forehead. Do not put tissues or gauze in your nose to stop a nosebleed. They often stick to the blood and hairs in the nostril that filters the air, and when they dry, you end up ripping out your nasal filtration system causing extreme pain and a bucket load of unnecessary tears. Gently wipe away any excess external of the nostrils and apply firmer pressure to the bridge area. If the bleeding persists or gets heavier and has not stopped after ten minutes, seek immediate medical attention.
Myth: Induce Vomiting If You Swallow A Poisonous Chemical
When someone swallows a chemical, you might assume that vomiting it up right away would fix the problem. This is a truly bad idea! NEVER induce vomiting of a poisonous substance. Some substances cause more damage coming up than they did when they were swallowed. The stomach is a giant acid pit, but the lining of the airway and throat are soft tissue that burns easily. By throwing up, you cause the substance to burn twice, doing twice the damage and still not solving the problem.
Instead: Immediately call 000 if the person is unconscious. You can then call the Poison Information Centre for advice about handling the situation until the emergency service arrives.
Myth: Heat On A Sprain Or Twisted Ankle
Do not put heat on a sprain for 24 hours. Heat can be soothing for aches and pains but is bad for new injuries. You should never apply heat to any injury or sprain. Heat will only increase the blood flow and thus the swelling. Seek medical advice and X-rays if you suspect a broken bone.
Instead: Apply ice or an ice pack for about 20 minutes for a sprain. Use the R.I.C.E. treatment of Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation for the first 24 hours.
Myth: Hot Water On Frozen Skin
Do not be tempted to run hot water over a frozen area to warm it up. Use warm water that is blood temperature between 36C-37C degrees only. Hot water increases the risk of burning the damaged skin if the water is too hot.
Instead: Slowly thaw the skin or limb with a warm water bath. Place the affected hands or feet under the armpits of either yourself or the person providing First Aid until the blood returns to normal temperature and the area is warm and normal in colour.
Myth: Rubbing Alcohol Will Reduce A Fever
Applying rubbing alcohol to the skin makes your skin feel cooler on a surface level only. Used in excess alcohol can be soaked up through the skin and into the bloodstream. In particular, for small children and infants, using rubbing alcohol to treat a fever increases the risk of alcohol poisoning.
Instead: You've heard the saying: 'Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.' Paracetamol is a febrile agent meaning its job is to reduce body temperature. Try a medicine that reduces fever and contains ibuprofen or acetaminophens like Nurofen for children or paracetamol. Call your doctor if the fever is over 38C degrees. Call an ambulance if the fever is over 39C degrees. At 40C degrees, immediately submerge them from the neck down into a full-body cold water bath, shower or pool and call 000.
Myth: Rubbing Irritated Eyes
When you have any small object in your eye, the feeling can be extremely annoying. Without thinking about it, you instantly rub your eye to remove the object. Stop! Don't rub your eye. Rubbing your eye when there is a foreign object in it can cause the surface to be scratched, opening the eye to infection and itching long after the cause has been removed.
Instead: Rinse your eye with clean running tap water or use an eye flushing bottle or First Aid kit supplied eyewashes. Get medical care if the feeling continues as the eyeball might have been scratched or compromised and require antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection.
Myth: Bandage On A Cut Speeds Healing
Putting antibacterial ointment on a cut and then leaving on a bandage for a few days doesn't speed healing. Just the opposite. Doing this increases unwanted moisture over the cut and prevents the wound from drying out and forming a scab to protect the new skin being created underneath.
Instead: Clean the cut and apply ointment. Where possible, let it heal in the fresh air. Change it daily if you need a bandage to keep the cut clean or for health and safety reasons.
Myth: Coffee Grounds Stop Bleeding
Are not words any intelligent person has ever spoken. Who started this shocker? Putting coffee grounds into anything but a cup of coffee is a stupid idea and will inevitably cause an infection of the injury site. Worse, it won’t stop the bleeding any better than using dirt and is just as likely to cause you far larger medical problems.
Instead: If you have a decent pain threshold, table salt can be used as an organic and natural option to form a waterproof, airtight, bacterial free wound dressing that, once set, requires no further treatment. It is the perfect 'Mother Nature Band-Aid' and is ideal for use by outdoor types. The salt reacts with the blood to form the perfect seal and cost nix. Pack the area under salt and apply pressure. It will sting! That is how you know it is doing the job properly. It will take up to five minutes for the bleeding to stop as a guide, but it might take up to ten minutes in larger areas. If the site is large or deep, sutures might be required. If you can't get sutures, just pack it with salt and scream like a banshee until the stinging stops and then you can gently wipe away the excess salt around the wound (leave the salt in the wound area) and get straight back to business.
Not into salt … Apply direct downward pressure on the wound site using a thick layer of absorbent material. Then wrap the wound securely until the bleeding stops. If it continues to bleed or seems to need stitches, head to your nearest emergency room or doctor.
In summary, we have evolved and advanced far enough that everyone should know what a First Aid kit is and how to use the content within to treat minor accidents and issues. If you have never seen the inside of a First Aid Kit, it might be time to consider taking a First Aid Course. Who knows, you might need to save a life one day. Make sure you know how to do it properly.