10 first aid myths

There are lots of myths surrounding first aid and how to administer it. These are some of the most common, and dangerous:

Myth 1: If someone is having a heart attack they should lie down.

By making someone lie down when they are having a heart attack you are actually making it harder for them to breathe. A half-seated position with bent knees and a supported back is better.

Myth 2: Do nothing; otherwise you’ll make things worse.

Many people fear that if they try to help someone then they will do more harm than good. Obviously an untrained member of the public cannot perform medical procedures, but there are simple actions you can take that could well save a life. Specifically, if someone is unconscious, putting them in the recovery position to prevent choking; and administering CPR to someone who is not breathing or whose heart has stopped.

Myth3: An ambulance is coming straight away.

If you have just called an ambulance it won’t bethere for at least a few minutes. This is enough time for a casualty’s condition to take a turn for the worse and result in death. In this time it’s vital you do something to help.

Myth 4: If someone is bleeding heavily, tie a tourniquet above the injury.

This is a bad idea as you could stop all blood flow and cause tissue damage. The best thing to do is to apply pressure to the wound and keep it raised.

Myth 5: Never move a person after traffic accident.

If a spinal injury is suspected, the person should preferably not be moved – but this may of course be necessary if they are in a life-threatening location. Also, it's of primary importance to rather focus first on whether they are breathing: if they are unconscious then check the airway is clear by lifting the chin and tilting the head. (See CPR procedure.)

Myth 6: If a child drinks a harmful substance then make them vomit.

This is not encouraged as more damage can be caused as the vomit exits the body, potentially burning the airway. After calling emergency services, get the child to sip milk and drink water to flush out the corrosive substance. See more on first aid for poisoning.

Myth 7: If someone is choking, try to get the object out with your fingers.

If you stick your fingers down someone’s throat, this could actually push the obstruction further down. To try to dislodge the object, smack the person between their shoulder blades. If that proves unsuccessful then try the Heimlich manoeuvre – but only if you know what you are doing otherwise internal damage could be caused.

Myth 8: Put something in the mouth of someone having a seizure.

This is supposed to stop them swallowing or biting their tongue, but by putting something in their mouth they could break their teeth, or the object, then choke on the pieces. Instead, try to put something underneath their head or just cushion the area with your coat or a blanket and remove any hazards.

Myth 9: If someone feels faint, put their head between their legs.

If they put their head between their legs they could fall forwards and injure themselves. This is the same if you make them sit up – another common mistake. Instead, they should lie down and you should raise their legs to get blood flowing to the brain.

Myth 10: If someone is hyperventilating make them breathe into a paper bag.

This practice should not be encouraged as proper treatment as it’s actually quite dangerous. This is because you will be making them breath in CO2, causing dangerously low oxygen levels. Instead, you should get the person to breathe slowly and deeply until they relax. Sips of water can also be helpful.

Most importantly, make sure you know a few first aid basics (doing a course every few years is best to stay up to date). Ultimately this will ensure you are ready to save a life if you ever need to.

- Neill Files for Health24, January 2013
Neill Files is a first aid expert and training manager at UK training provider Aid Training.

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