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First aid: the basics

14th January 2009

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, more accidents happen at home than anywhere else.

Falls are by far the most common accidents, accounting for 55% of all accidents. And around 25,000 under-fives attend A&E each year after being accidentally poisoned.

There is no substitute for enrolling on a first aid course, but even a basic knowledge may help when it’s most needed.

There are many different types of courses, including first aid in the workplace and emergency first aid for babies and children.

It's important that any first aid information or training you receive is accurate, as first aid procedures are frequently reviewed and updated.

Consider keeping first aid kits in your home and in your car. Your collection of first aid supplies and equipment may include bandages for controlling bleeding, vinyl gloves (to protect both yourself and the casualty), sterile dressings and plasters.

Here is some basic first aid advice:

Sprains and strains

Your aims are to reduce swelling, and seek medical help if necessary.

It is recommended you follow the RICE procedure if you think the casualty has a sprain or strain:

R: rest
I:  ice
C: compress
E: elevate

Apply a cold compress for 10 minutes, reassess the injury, then reapply. If after 30 minutes the swelling has started to go down, advise the person to rest the affected limb.

If the swelling doesn't go down, it could be a break and you should seek medical advice.

Cuts and grazes

Wash and dry your own hands.

Cover any cuts on your own hands and put on disposable gloves.

Clean the cut under running water if it's dirty. Pat dry with a sterile dressing or clean, lint-free material. If possible, raise the affected area above the heart.

Cover the cut temporarily while you clean the surrounding skin with soap and water and pat the surrounding skin dry. Cover the cut completely with a sterile dressing or plaster.

Poisoning

It’s important to first identify what the person has taken, e.g. berries, medicine or tablets.

Call for an ambulance and try to give details of what poison was involved and the amount taken.

Reassure the casualty and keep them calm.

Keep any evidence of the poison to give to paramedics.

If the casualty vomits, keep a sample to give to the paramedics for analysis.

If the poison has burned the casualty’s lips (i.e. if it’s a corrosive poison), you can let them have sips of water or milk.

Don't try to make the casualty vomit.

Check their responsiveness and breathing and wait for help to arrive.

Insect stings

Many insects sting as a defence mechanism by injecting venom into the skin. Most are painful but harmless. However, some people can have an immediate allergic reaction to being stung, and sometimes this can be very dangerous.

Your symptoms will be more severe if you're stung many times by one, or more, insects due to the amount of venom that is injected into your skin.

Seek emergency medical treatment, if, immediately after being stung, you experience any of the following symptoms as you may be having a generalised allergic reaction and this can be fatal:

Swelling or itching anywhere else on your body, wheezing, headache, nausea, fast heart rate, dizziness, feeling faint, difficulty swallowing and swollen face or mouth.

Treatment

If you have been stung by an insect and there is a sting left in the skin, remove it as soon as possible. You could use the blunt edge of a knife or a credit card for instance. Don't use tweezers as you risk squeezing more poison into the wound.

If a child has been stung, a responsible adult should remove the sting. Bee stings have a venomous sac so try not to puncture this as you remove the sting.

To treat insect stings, you should:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Put a cold flannel on the area.
  • Raise the part of the body that has been stung to prevent swelling.
  • Use a spray or cream containing local anaesthetic or antihistamine on the area to prevent itching and swelling.
  • Take painkillers, such as paracetamol (if the sting is very painful).
  • Do not scratch the area, as it may become infected.
  • See your GP if the redness and itching doesn't clear up after 48 hours.

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