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First Aid Myths – 6 popular beliefs which could hinder rather than help

Have you ever been called upon to give First Aid? Perhaps not. But it could happen. And if it does, how would you cope? Without proper training, you’d probably find yourself relying on what you’ve heard, or what you’ve seen on TV. Unfortunately, though, this can sometimes cause more harm than good!

Which is understandable, really. After all, as any First Aid professional will tell you, advice changes over the years, as research and new findings are unearthed. Unfortunately, however, the outdated information can stick around, muddying the waters for non-professionals. So, we thought we’d highlight some of the most common first aid myths we’ve found and dispel them. Hopefully, it will help to point you in the right direction, should you ever find yourself giving First Aid.

Tilt your head back when you have a nosebleed

Most people will remember being told as a child, “Tilt your head back and pinch your nose!” And it's become one of the most persistent of all First Aid myths. But that’s just what it is – a myth. It is, to be blunt, a bad idea. Tilting the head back can result in swallowing blood - and even choking on it.

A (much) better idea is to pinch the soft part of the nose and lean forwards for 10 minutes (preferably over a bowl or sink, otherwise you’ll make a right old mess!). This should then do the trick. But if the bleeding continues for over 30 minutes, seek medical advice.

Place something in the mouth of a seizing person to prevent them biting their tongue

It’s true – it is possible that an individual may bite their tongue during a seizure. So, the idea of placing something in their mouth (like a wallet) to let them bite down safely sounds pretty sensible. But it isn’t. In fact, it’s a very bad idea, and can be very dangerous. Why? Well, the strain that results from forcing the mouth open can cause problems with the teeth and jaw, and could even block the airway, which can be fatal.

In this situation, remember - less is more! Don’t restrain the person in any way and don’t put anything in their mouths. Simply place something soft under their head, remove any surrounding obstructions that they might hit, and call the emergency services. If the seizure ends before the emergency services arrive, turn the person onto their side and wait with them.

Butter eases the pain of a burn

When it comes to First Aid myths, this is a real chart-topper! It goes back centuries and is still with us. Why? Well, if you put something cold on a burn, you’ll naturally feel relief from pain. But, in the case of butter, this relief will be very short lived, because butter – like all oils - holds in heat. So, using this technique is counterproductive. The butter seals off the air to the wound and keeps the heat in – so the skin will continue to burn!

With most burns, the best thing you can do is head straight for the tap. Leave the water running onto the burn for at least 20 minutes (depending on the severity). This will help to numb the pain and stop the skin from burning. If water isn’t available, use a product such as Burnshield Dressings - these can be applied directly to the burn, cooling the skin, easing the pain and preventing any contamination.

Treating hyperventilation using the paper bag technique

Hyperventilation is when a person’s breathing rate is too fast. This can be caused by several things, such as running, pneumonia - and even stress. When this happens on the TV or in a movie, the character concerned usually grabs a paper bag and breathes into it. Then, presto! – they miraculously recover.

So, is this how it really works? Answer – no. In fact, doctors today are urging
people to stop using this technique. Not only is it ineffective and dangerous, but it may also be that the ‘hyperventilating’ person is actually suffering from a more serious condition and using the ‘bag technique’ will increase the level of carbon dioxide in their blood, putting their life at risk.

Urine eases the pain of a jellyfish sting

Anyone who’s seen a certain episode of Friends can be forgiven for thinking that the best thing you can do to help with a jellyfish sting is – pee on it! Unfortunately, in real life, Joey’s peeing on Monica’s leg wouldn’t have helped her. In fact, it could have even made the pain worse, as the salt in his urine could have triggered more nematocysts (the cells that hold the venom) to fire into the skin. Not good.

One of the best cures for treating standard jellyfish stings is vinegar, so a sprint to the local chippy is your best option*.

* And no, this is NOT a myth

Alcohol will warm you up if you have hypothermia

Lots of people think that alcohol helps to warm you up and helps with hypothermia. And that’s not surprising, as anyone who’s tried a hot toddy will vouch for the fact that it gives you a warming feeling. And many of us have been duped, by clever marketing, into believing that St. Bernard rescue dogs carry small kegs of brandy around their necks (actually, they’re carrying post).

The fact is that alcohol as a ‘treatment’ for hypothermia is a very bad idea. Yes, it gives a warming feeling, but it has other effects on the body which can only make things worse. Far from being a cure, alcohol is actually one of the biggest risk factors in causing hypothermia. Avoid alcohol and give them a Blizzard blanket or Foil blanket instead, they’ll thank you for it later.