We have placed cookies on your computer to help make this website better. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.
Don't show this message again

Common First Aid Myths

First aid myths – some can be helpful, others are harmless but useless and others still can be dangerous. We should be able to differentiate between them all to know how to act in an emergency.   2010-08-11

When we are on holiday, we tend to encounter first aid emergencies. At such times we rarely have the time to go and consult a book or to log into the internet for the latest research, turning instead to the myths passed on from generation to generation. Sometimes these can be helpful but they can also cause more harm. The purpose of this article is to dispel some of the more harmful tales.

The first concerns the way to remove bee stings. One myth is that a credit card should be used to scrape it off and another that tweezers should be applied to squeeze it out. The reality is that the sting should be removed as quickly as possible to stop the venom being pumped in. If you happen to have a credit card in your hand, which would indeed be a useful tool, but wasting time looking for such a card could be harmful. Similarly tweezers may be good - but not if used to squeeze more poison into the victim - or if the tweezers are located in a different town! Just pull the sting out any way you can – fingernails are every bit as useful as a credit card.

While talking about painful encounters with animals there is another myth – snakebite venom should be sucked out. This may mean that both the victim and the rescuer become poisoned and the chances of removing all the venom are remote as it will quickly have been transported from the bite site via the blood stream around the body. (Actually, very few snake bites result in enough venom being released to do any real harm, but the resulting shock may cause the real damage). If you are faced with such a situation the best solution is to ensure the victim and you are safe from further bites, reassure the victim and get to medical help as quickly as possible.

Summertime sea bathing can result in painful jellyfish stings. Many of us have heard the advice to urinate on jellyfish stings. Unlike some of the other myths mentioned here this advice does not appear to be harmful but it is not helpful. There is generally not sufficient acid in urine to be effective – vinegar is much better for some jellyfish stings - notably box jellyfish  -  but it potentiates the action of the sting in others, so you really need to be aware of the variety of Jellyfish with which you are dealing. In any event, liberal amounts of sand should be used to remove the slime, (together with a towel or other fabric), which contains the stinging cells (using hands will merely ensure the hands are stung as well). Antihistamine tablets may also be of use.

One myth that has been around for years is that butter should be applied to a burn. Whether the burn is a result of the sun, a naked flame, contact with a hot object or steam, this is harmful. Butter will hold the heat in when the skin needs to be cooled. If the skin is intact but red, the best treatment is the application of cold water for at least ten minutes and once this has been effective, the subsequent sealing of the burn against the air (cling film is useful for this). For deeper burns the person should receive medical treatment but on no account should butter or indeed, oil, be applied.

Another harmful idea that has been around for many years is that people who have a nosebleed should tip their heads back. This results in the blood running down the back of the throat causing the person to either inhale or swallow the blood. Inhalation of the blood can cause serious respiratory problems and as blood is an irritant in the stomach, swallowing often results in vomiting. There is no advantage to the backward tilt but several disadvantages. The person should either sit upright, or lean forward and pinch the fleshy part of their nose continuously for ten minutes. If the person is still bleeding after this they may need medical help.

In the summer people often enjoy alcohol as a way of relaxing or celebrating. As a result they can become disinhibited and  suffer from reduced ability to make sound judgements in relation to their environment. Black eyes can be the outcome and this leads to another old myth – place a fresh steak over a black eye. There is no advantage to this and it may introduce bacteria to wounds or the eye as they thrive on warm meat. Furthermore, it will attract flies and it is a waste of a good meal. A pack of frozen peas wrapped in a clean tea cloth and applied to the area is a much more beneficial option. This will reduce both the swelling and the subsequent discomfort.

In conclusion, summer is the season to relax and enjoy oneself. If accidents do happen, try to sort out the myths from reality and eat your steak cooked in butter rather than applying them to your body.