Basic first aid treament for minor cuts, scrapes, burns and bruises

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We have all done it, backed up into a hot stove, let the knife slip, or missed that last stair and done a swan dive onto the pavement. If there isn’t any serious injury, it becomes a matter of damage control and healing as quickly and painlessly as possible. After the Ouch! Here is what to do next:

To treat scrapes and minor cuts:

First, wash the area with soap and water, gently removing anything in the wound (like grass, dirt or pebbles) that can cause infection. Gentle pressure can help stop bleeding. Do NOT pour alcohol, iodine or hydrogen peroxide into the cut. They can sting and slow the healing process. Applying an antibiotic ointment can help avoid infection, but don’t use it after the first day on hands or feet, since they may also retard healing.

Until the wound is completely healed, keep the area clean and dry. Keeping it covered with a clean dressing (either a cotton cloth or a sterile bandage) can help. As the cut heals, pay attention to swelling, redness, more pain, pus leaking from the cut, as they can be signs of infection. If any or all of these symptoms are present, it is best to consult a doctor.

For more serious cuts:

Start by elevating the injured area. The less blood flow to the cut, the less it can bleed. Then place a clean cloth or length of gauze over the wound and apply pressure with the palm of your hand until the bleeding stops. It may take 10 minutes or more if the cut is bleeding significantly. Do NOT remove the dressing once the cut has stopped bleeding, as this will interfere with the clotting already underway to heal the cut. If the wound bleeds through the bandage, simply place a fresh dressing on top of the old one.

If the injury is causing severe pain, spurting blood or causing serious blood loss (about ½ cup in adults, less in children), seek emergency attention immediately.

To treat burns:

For thermal (heat or flame), contact (caused by touching a hot object), or chemical burn:

First, run the burned area under cold water for 10 to 30 minutes. If this is not possible, apply a cold compress. Never try to treat a burn with ice. Don’t try to remove clothing or anything else that may be stuck to the burn, and do not apply soap, butter, creams or any ointment to the burn. These could worsen the damage, and will simply have to be cleaned off later. Next, cover the burn with a sterile bandage or a strip of clean cotton cloth. You may take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen (unless you are on a conflicting medication) to reduce pain and swelling.

Remember NOT to pop any blisters that may form. Blisters speed healing and keep out many germs that can cause infection. Always consult a doctor for burns on the face or genitalia, or for any burn on an infant.

To treat electrical burns:

If the burn is very minor, follow the instructions for thermal burns (above).

Since electrical burns can potentially affect not only skin, but muscles, nerves and bones as well, seek medical immediate attention for any larger burns. Until help arrives, cover the burn with a sterile dry cloth and keep the victim lying down with feet elevated. As with all burns, do not apply any ointment, or try to remove any burned clothing, etc.

To treat and minimize bruises:

Quickly elevate the affected area, if possible. The less blood that flows to the area, the less blood pools at the site. Then apply a cold compress gently to the bruised area. You can make a compress by filling a bag with ice and wrapping it in a towel. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin, since it can cause frostbite and make things worse. A bag of frozen vegetables (like peas or corn) also works, and can be re-frozen and used again. Just don’t try to eat them later! Like elevation, cold reduces blood flow, minimizing the size of the bruise, swelling and inflammation.

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