You probably know to call 911 in the event of a heart attack, but do you know what to do in other emergencies, such as burns or sprains? In an emergency, it’s easy to confuse medical fallacies with facts, and sometimes your first instinct, which may be based on an old wives' tale, isn't the best response — and may even be deadly.
Knowing the right thing to do is more important than ever because emergency room waiting times get longer and longer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, the current national average is almost one hour, and some patients actually have to wait an astounding 24 hours. When you add in the time it takes to get to the ER to begin with, proper first aid can be critical.
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Here’s a list of eight facts and fallacies from expert sources such as the American Red Cross and the Mayo Clinic to always keep in mind that will set you straight on facts and prepare you for accidents caused by everything from electric carving knives to frying pans. And never forget that the first rule of first aid is the same one physicians follow: "First, do no harm."
1. Severe burn. The usual error is to try to put something on a burn, whether it’s ice or butter. The best thing for a minor burn, or even a first or second-degree burn, is to immediately cool the area down with cold running water, says the American Red Cross. Cover the burn with loose gauze — not cotton or anything fuzzy — and go to the ER.
2. Electrical burn. The potential fatal error here is failing to go to the ER immediately, since there is often no evidence of injury. Electrical burns, however, can cause hidden injury deep within the body. Just remember that electrical burns are double-barreled, causing injury by heating as well as by the passage of electric current itself through tissues.
3. Knocked-out tooth. A common mistake is to scrub the tooth. According to the American Dental Association, the best thing is to pick up the tooth by its chewing edge and drop it in a glass of milk. Then head to the dentist or the ER, where it might be reimplanted. The faster you act, the better your chances.
4. Severed finger. In these days of chainsaws and electric carving knives, it’s easy to lop off the end of a finger. The error here is to put the severed part on ice. The correct procedure is to put the part in a water proof bag, and then place the bag itself on ice before going to the ER.
5. Nosebleed. The fallacy in treating nosebleeds is to lean back. The proper treatment is to lean forward instead of backward, and to pinch your nose just below the nasal bone and hold it for five to 10 minutes. If bleeding persists, go to the ER.
6. Ankle sprain. The wrong thing in this case is heat — put away the heating pad and get out an ice pack. Apply to the sprain (place a towel or other thin, protective barrier between the ice and skin) for about 20 minutes to reduce swelling. Also, ibruprofen or other NSAIDs are recommended to help reduce inflammation and swelling. If your ankle won’t bear weight, you may have a fracture, and you may need a trip to the ER.
7. Poison. The biggest fallacy is to administer syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The right thing is to get the victim to the ER together with the container of whatever poison was ingested. These days, ER doctors will often give the victim activated charcoal to bind the poison in the stomach and keep it from entering the bloodstream.
8. Seizures. The worst error is to put something in the victim’s mouth. The recommendation here is to put the victim onto his or her side, and call 911.
Important Note:Some emergencies should prompt you to call 911 immediately instead of trying to transport someone to the ER. Those emergencies include chest pain, profuse and uncontrollable bleeding, shortness of breath, and confusion.
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