By Kate Hilpern
MOST of us think we know at least a few first aid basics but some of the most widely held beliefs are wrong.
“Many have been passed down through the generations and when people are not formally taught first aid these myths simply get perpetuated,” says Dr Rob Hicks, GP and author of Old-Fashioned Remedies: From Arsenic To Gin.
At best, these first aid fairytales can slow recovery. At worst they can prove fatal. Here we debunk some common myths.
1 Treat a nosebleed by tilting the head back and pinching the hard bit of the nose
The general rule for blood loss is to elevate the area of the body affected to reduce the flow.
“With nosebleeds you just send the blood down the back of the throat which isn’t very nice and can affect breathing,” says Clive James of St John Ambulance.
The correct procedure is to tilt the head forward and pinch the soft bit of the nose.
“This helps the blood to clot. Check after 10 minutes to see if it has stopped and if it is still bleeding after three lots of 10 minutes get medical attention,” he says.
2 Cold or hypothermic patients should be warmed up with alcohol
Alcohol increases the size of blood vessels under the skin. While this can initially cause a pleasant flush it ultimately makes the body lose rather than gain heat.
“This is why people who are very drunk in winter are susceptible to hypothermia and occasionally don’t make it home,” says Murray MacGregor of the West Midlands Ambulance Service.
Ditch the brandy and instead gently apply warmth via hot drinks, blankets and layers of clothes.
3 Resuscitation can restart a person’s heart and bring them back to life
The so-called kiss of life on its own is unlikely to be of much benefit to a person who is not breathing.
Joe Mulligan of the British Red Cross says: “There is usually enough residual oxygen in the blood supply to keep people alive in the short term and in any case it is pretty technical and messy.”
If you do one thing for someone who’s stopped breathing it should be chest compressions. Joe says: “Research shows this has the best chance of circulating blood supply around the body to keep the major organs going, particularly the brain, until the ambulance arrives.”
4 Put butter on a burn
All this will achieve is a macabre fry-up, says Joe.
“As with all oils butter heats things up so you’re literally putting fuel on the fire making the burn worse. The other no-no is to use potions or creams. Even if they are from a pharmacist and are for soothing burns the small print will tell you they are meant as a secondary treatment.”
Place the burnt area under cool running water for at least 10 minutes and cover it with cling film to prevent infection and reduce pain. Seek medical help if necessary.
5 If a child swallows bleach or a cleaning product make them vomit
“Because most cleaning products are corrosive they’ll burn on the way down and they’ll burn again on the way back up, causing a double whammy of danger,” says Clive. Call in medical experts who will either give a neutralising agent or pump out the stomach.
“If you’re going to give the child anything to drink make it small sips of milk which will cool the back of the throat. its alkaline content might help break down the acidity.
“It may also help keep the airway open so they can breathe. Avoid large volumes which will help spread the poison round the body,” he adds.
6 You should force something into the mouth of someone having a fit
Putting a spoon or fingers into a person’s mouth during a seizure could be harmful, says the Epilepsy Society.
“It could hurt them, damage their teeth and block their airway and if the jaw spasms you could get bitten too,” says Amanda Cleaver from the charity. Stay calm and check your watch.
“If the seizure lasts for five minutes or longer than is usual for that person call an ambulance,” Amanda adds.
“Move harmful objects. Put something soft under their head to stop it hitting the ground and put them in the recovery position.”
7 A heart attack is the same as a cardiac arrest
Television dramas are to blame for muddying the waters here. Joe says:
“A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage in the muscle surrounding the heart. It is often indicated by a crushing pain in the centre of the chest and in many cases people make a full recovery.
“A cardiac arrest – which a heart attack could develop into if not treated – is when there is a problem with the actual heart that results in the person being unconscious and not breathing.”
If you think someone is having a heart attack call 999 and put them in a comfortable sitting position. If you suspect a cardiac arrest call 999 and start chest compressions.
With a cardiac arrest your chance of survival drops by 10 per cent per minute if nothing is done to assist you. Brain damage can start at around six minutes,” adds Murray.
8 If someone is choking give them a drink of water or a dry piece of toast
This myth stems from a desire to force the object down but it will only add to the obstruction and make the situation worse, says Joe.
“Encourage the person to cough and if they can’t, give up to five blows to the back between the shoulder blades,” he says.
If this doesn’t work (it usually does) give up to five abdominal thrusts.
“You do this by standing behind the person and placing a clenched fist between their belly button and the bottom of the breastbone,” Joe adds.
“Bring your other hand round their body and over the other hand and pull inwards and upwards sharply.
“If the obstruction doesn’t clear after three cycles of back blows and abdominal thrusts dial 999 and continue the cycles until help arrives.”
9 Giving a diabetic sugar will make them worse
There are two types of diabetic attacks, hyperglycaemic when sugar levels are too high and hypoglycaemic when the sugar level is too low.
“The symptoms for both are similar which can confuse people. No wonder they worry that giving the person even more sugar could be fatal,” says Clive.
A hyperglycaemic attack is rare, often taking days or weeks to come on and you won’t do any harm by giving sugar. The blood sugar is already too high and the patient will still need the same treatment.
“Far more likely is it’s a hypoglycaemic attack and giving them sugar in the form of a drink or biscuit should have an immediate effect,” Clive adds.
10 Cure back pain by lying down
“In the past resting was thought to be the best way to control back pain and speed recovery,” says Dr Hicks.
“However research has shown that lying down for prolonged periods slows healing and makes long-term back pain more likely.”
Try to remain active. “Painkillers, heat and cold therapy and remaining positive can all help a person with back pain to achieve this,” he explains.
Our spines are designed for movement and mobility, says Sean McDougall of the charity BackCare.
“Remaining active keeps the structures in your back moving as they are supposed to, reducing stiffness and pain,” he says.
11 You can swallow your tongue
No you can’t. It is rooted to the floor of the mouth by the lingual frenulum making it impossible to get the tongue far enough back in the throat to swallow.
What can happen with an unconscious patient is that the tongue lolls in the back of the throat potentially blocking the airway, says Joe.
“Simply tilting the head back and lifting the chin pulls the tongue forward and prevents this.
“Ideally you should then turn the person on to their side, keeping their head tilted back. In other words putting them in the recovery position until you get medical help.”
12 If you heard a snap it must be a broken bone
It may be a broken bone but it’s as likely to be a tear or rupture of a ligament, says Dr Hicks. Confusing the two is understandable.
Not only is the sound similar but so are the symptoms of pain and swelling. It could be serious so get medical attention.
The noise of the knee’s anterior cruciate ligament snapping is one feared by athletes and particularly footballers.
The ligament keeps the knee from bending sideways when you pivot on your foot. It is an injury often suffered by older people as a result of slips and falls.