First Aid Myths… Fact or Fiction??

KarynFirst Aid

First aid: fact or fiction?
“….the best way to prepare yourself to manage a first aid situation is NOT to follow first aid myths.  Instead complete a First Aid Course and learn up-to-date information and techniques.”

At most of my first aid or parent first aid courses an old wives’ tale or remedy comes up.  They often cause a chuckle and often someone will absolutely swear by them.  We all have those “first aid cures” that we were bought up on…. I remember my mother putting something blue form the laundry on my bee stings.  I can’t even tell you what it was but she swore by it.  Whilst I am still alive to tell the tale, it is not something that I or any other respected first aid trainer would recommend!  If my children get stung by a bee I head to the freezer for an icepack rather than the laundry (sorry Mum!).

The other night at a Parent/Caregiver first aid course an old remedy came up that I had never heard of and I thought it was time to “debunk some common first aid myths.”  There are many myths out there but these are the ones that I commonly get asked starting with the one from the other night….

Rub an onion on a wound to help it heal….

This one I had never heard of before but the person swore by it.  There is some suggestion that onions have antibacterial properties.  However, this has not undergone enough rigorous medical research for it to be acknowledged to be true.  In fact it may cause harm by introducing foreign bodies to the wound as so is something I would definitely NOT recommend.

Accepted wound care procedures are to keep a wound clean, warm and moist to best support the body’s natural healing ability.  Clean: by flushing gently with (ideally) sterile saline or clean water, do not scrub a wound.  Cover: with an appropriate non-stick dressing which will help to protect it from infection. This will also help to keep the wound warm and moist which is the best environment for the body to naturally start to heal itself.  However, if a wound has anything embedded in it, is deep or large or has signs of infection such as redness and pain always see a Medical Professional to have it assessed.

Urinate on a jellyfish sting….

This myth has not been helped by it featuring on popular comedy shows.  Let me just say it does not help, may cause harm as the urine is not acidic enough to neutralise the sting…. and it is gross!

Instead hold your bladder and for non-tropical jelly fish rinse any tentacles off with sea water, alternatively pull them off with gloved fingers or tweezers then immerse the area with hot area to relieve pain.  For tropical jelly fish, call 000 (especially in the case of a box jellyfish sting), douse the area with vinegar for at least 30 secs to neutralise the venom, rinse the tentacles off with seawater or pull them off with your fingers and apply cold packs.

Butter on a burn….

Again, I have no idea where this came from, but NEVER do it.  Putting butter on a burn can make it worse!  Butter is used to help cook things not cool things down.  Furthermore putting something unsterile such as butter on a burn could lead to infection.

The accepted first aid for burns is to cool it with cold running water for 20 minutes.  This first aid is essential to stop the burn progressing through the layers of the skin.  If the burn is above the shoulders it needs urgent medical assessment as it could cause the airways to swell and block.  If the burn has caused a blister or is the bigger than a 20-50C piece it is best to apply a non-stick dressing or wrap it in gladwrap and get it assessed by Medical Personal to ensure it receives the appropriate dressing and care to minimise infection and promote healing.

Rub your eye to remove a foreign substance/body….

People often rub their eye when something is in it to try to dislodge it or bring it to the front.  However, if the something is more than dust or an eyelash this can make things much worse by causing further injury such as scratch on the surface of the eye.  Remember your eye is 360 degrees and we only see a part of it.  Rubbing your eye could cause the “something” to move around to the back where it is difficult to get to, it can also cause any chemical spilt in your eye to spread.

Instead if you have something in your eye you are best to flush your eye with water, saline or an eye wash.  If it is not easily removed or there is a chemical or something with sharp edges seek medical help asap to prevent further or permanent damage.

Don’t remove a shoe if you suspect a sprained ankle….

I get asked this at most first aid courses when we talk about the recommended initial treatment for a sprain.  I have also had people at netball say “don’t remove her shoe” when I have been removing a shoe to look at someone’s ankle.  I can understand people not wanting to cause pain or further damage, however think of it like this….

  1. An injured ankle is likely to swell as inflammation sets in, this might make it difficult and more painful to remove a shoe if you delay.
  2. The recommended treatment for treating a soft tissue injury such as a sprain is “RICE” (rest, ice, compression and elevation for the first 48-72 hrs). This is not possible to do effectively if the shoe is still on.
  3. To properly assess an injury the whole area needs to be visible meaning the shoe needs to be off.

During a seizure prise open the persons mouth and jam something into it….

This has been around for generations and came from concern that a person could swallow their tongue during a seizure unless there was something in their mouth holding the tongue down.  I am pleased to say I am being asked the question less and less as the RIGHT message has gotten out.  Firstly, anatomically speaking, a person cannot swallow their tongue, however if you put something in their mouth while they are having a seizure they certainly can choke on that!  Prising their mouth open can cause harm to the person and yourself.  Remember, the first rule of first aid is to protect the casualty and yourself from further harm.  As hard as it is the recommended first aid management of a seizure is to let the person seize while protecting them from harming themselves due to their surroundings e.g., move close objects that could cause harm and if possible place something soft under their head especially if they are on a hard surface.  Once they have finished having a seizure roll them into the recovery position and reassure them.  Ring an ambulance if it a first-time seizure, seizure lasts for more than 5 mins, they do not regain consciousness or experience another seizure soon after the first.

I could go on with some of the things that I keep hearing in my courses….  Old wives’ tales have been around for generations and I have no doubt that they will keep doing the rounds and I will keep hearing new ones.  However the best way to prepare yourself to manage a first aid situation is NOT to follow first aid myths.  Instead complete a First Aid course and learn up-to-date information and techniques.

Do you have a first aid myth?  Let us know what it is in the comments section and I will see if I think it is fact or fiction…….

Please note: This article was written for information and education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read in this article.