Not a day goes by that there is not some potential for injury, illness, or sudden health emergency to occur in the places where we live, work, learn, and play. While many of these situations require no more than a Band-Aid, others are more serious and may even be life-threatening. Knowing what to do when an accident happens or when someone becomes suddenly ill can help ensure that minor injuries don’t develop into major medical conditions. More importantly, it can save a life.
First aid instruction is usually required for those in certain professions, such as nurses, teachers, and law enforcement officers. But anyone can and should learn first aid skills. The American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and several other agencies provide first aid courses in locations throughout the nation.
Before taking a first aid course, it is a good idea to think about what personal qualities are useful when responding to a possible medical emergency. You need to be able to remain calm in an intense situation, and to assist the victim to remain calm. You must have good observational skills, both to assess what you need to do to assure your own safety during an emergency situation and to quickly assess the medical situation. It is also good to be methodical. You must be able to prioritize steps in each situation and then follow through until medical help arrives.
In emergency situations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) website, Ready.gov, encourages a Check-Call-Care plan of action.
- Check the scene for danger to yourself and others. Do not proceed if your safety is at risk. Call for help. If the scene is safe, evaluate the medical condition of the ill or injured person. Do not move the individual unless you must do so to protect him or her from danger.
- Call for medical help if appropriate. Ask a nearby person to call 911, or make the call yourself if you are alone.
- Care for the injured person. Remain with the victim until medical help arrives. Offer reassurance to help the person stay calm. Treat immediate life-threatening problems, such as:
If possible, cover wounds with clean bandages, and then apply direct pressure to the wound to control bleeding.
Symptoms of shock typically include pale, bluish skin that is cold to the touch, vomiting, and thirst. You cannot reverse shock with first aid, but you can prevent it from getting worse. Help maintain an open airway by keeping the victim on their back with their mouth slightly open, control obvious bleeding, and elevate the victim’s legs about 12 inches if possible. Prevent loss of body heat by covering the victim in blankets. Do not administer any food or liquids, as this increases risk for vomiting.
Loss of Consciousness and Breathing Issues
If the victim appears to be unconscious, tap or shake them and ask loudly “Are you okay?” If the victim is breathing but unconscious, gently roll them onto their side (if possible) while keeping the head and neck aligned. If the victim is not breathing, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until help arrives.
If the victim is choking, perform the Heimlich Maneuver until the object is dislodged.
Call the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) and give as much information as possible, including what type of poison was ingested and how much. The operator will give you instructions while you wait for emergency care to arrive.
Non Life-Threatening Injuries
In cases where injuries are minor, try to keep the victim calm and stable while you await medical care. Administering basic first aid can help stabilize injuries and reduce pain in the meantime:
- Apply cold packs to bone or muscle injuries, but be careful not to move the victim to avoid further injury.
- Control minor bleeding by applying pressure to the wound.
- Pour cool, clean water over the burns and cover with dry, clean dressings or cloth. Do not try to remove peeling skin or apply any creams or salves to the burned area.
To avoid illness or injury when administering first aid care:
- Always assess the scene of an accident to ensure conditions are safe
- Wear protective equipment, such as latex gloves or breathing barriers when possible
- Avoid direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids
- Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after providing care