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Important First Aid Skills for the Average Person

Burnout is a common consequence of working in a high-stress, fast-paced environment, especially in the healthcare industry. Nursing is a highly demanding and challenging profession and thus nurses become highly susceptible to First aid is a fast, reactive medical response to accident or injury. Knowing simple first aid can prevent the loss of lives, especially when waiting for medical professionals to arrive. Having a basic understanding of first aid can provide you with the knowledge to help protect yourself and those around you. Since we never know when an emergency will happen, having basic first aid skills could be the difference between life and death. Never rely on the hope that someone nearby will know first aid or be able to help. Learning these quick and simple first aid techniques lets you take control and help when you or someone around you needs it most.

The Importance of First Aid

First aid is often the most immediate action taken to help a person suffering from an injury or in need of medical assistance. According to the American Academy of CPR and First Aid, globally "more than 2.2 million people die every year from a workplace injury, incident, or illness" with around 650 people dying from what should have been non-fatal injuries at home. In many cases, first aid can greatly reduce the recovery time of an injured person or even keep them from having a permanent disability. Depending on the circumstances, the time it takes for first responders to get to a person in need can vary greatly. A bystander that knows life-saving first aid techniques can save people a lot of pain, danger, and in some cases, it will save lives.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR for short, is an emergency procedure that can save someone's life when their heart stops beating or if they stop breathing. The mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions serve to temporarily pump blood to the brain until help arrives. This technique can double or even triple a person's chances of survival after cardiac arrest. If you see someone collapse, check for breathing or a heartbeat. Without either of those, oxygen cannot be circulated to the brain and the brain can only go four to six minutes without oxygen before being permanently damaged. For those who have had CPR training or are a trained medical professional, 30 shallow hand compressions between 2-2.5 inches deep to the chest (at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute) are followed by two breaths given mouth-to-mouth. For the average person without any training, hands-only CPR is encouraged. To do this, place one hand over the other and push hard and fast on the center of the person's chest with the heel of your hand until Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrive.

Heimlich Maneuver

graphic showing steps to perform heimlich maneuver

The Heimlich maneuver is a way of dislodging foreign objects when someone is choking and should only be used when a person is conscious. If a person can speak, cough, or breathe, allow them to try to free the foreign object on their own. Stay alert and close by so you can monitor them in case their condition worsens. Providing a beverage may also help wash away lodged digestible material. If a person cannot breath, speak, or cough, stand behind them and put your arms around their abdomen. Make a fist with one hand and wrap your other hand tightly around it. Place your fist about two inches above the choking person's belly button. Your fist should be around two inches below their ribcage. From here thrust your hands quickly inward and upward one to five times until the object is dislodged. You may need to repeat this process more than once. If the person becomes unconscious, stop and begin performing CPR, and continue until help arrives. Make sure someone calls EMS while you do this.

Setting a Splint for Broken Bones

A splint is a rigid item, such as a stick or board, that helps immobilize an injury where a bone is broken. Injuries often happen when we least expect them and a splint may need to be created using what you have with or near you. To be successful, a splint should be rigid or able to support the injury. It should pad and immobilize the area of the body, allows the person to move or be moved, and lets the injured person's hands and feet get checked to ensure blood is circulating properly. Normal, everyday items can make great splints. From rolled up socks to folded newspapers, as long the splint provides support, padding, and immobilization while allowing for movement and medical checks, a splint can be used to protect a broken bone until medical treatment is received. While stabilizing and immobilizing a broken bone can help limit additional damage, it also reduces pain.

To set a splint, first clean the wound as much as possible. Without moving the body part, use something rigid to make splints or secure the injured body part to an uninjured part of the body so it does not move. This often works well using a shirt to set an arm across the chest or a sock to secure one finger to the one next to it. Next, secure the splint both above and below the injury with whatever you have on you or can find, such as a hair tie, belt, or strip of clothing. Check the injury often for any swelling, numbness, or paleness as these may indicate that the splint needs to be loosened to allow better blood circulation. If the person is in more pain with the splint, remove the splint and call for medical attention immediately.

Stopping Excessive Bleeding

graphic showing wound first aid

Excessive or severe bleeding can be extremely dangerous and life-threatening if not handled quickly. According to research, an adult can lose "up to 14% of their blood volume without physical symptoms or deviations in their vital signs". After this, hemorrhaging can take place. To care for someone who is bleeding excessively, first find the wound or where they are bleeding from and try to expose it. Leave anything lodged inside the body alone. Trying to remove or force anything out could cause bleeding to worsen or cause more damage to the body. Once you have exposed the wound, apply direct pressure until the bleeding stops, then apply gauze or cloth around the wound tightly enough to keep pressure on without cutting off circulation. If swelling occurs or if the area becomes pale or numb, carefully loosen the cloth. If blood soaks through the first cloth, apply another without removing the first. Removing the first cloth could cause bleeding to increase. Severe and uncontrollable bleeding could cause death within a matter of minutes. In extreme cases, where pressure alone does not stop the bleeding, a tourniquet may be necessary. Because tourniquets work by effectively cutting off circulation to the wound, the victim could lose that body part all together. A tourniquet should only be used when direct pressure is not working and the person may lose their life before medical help can arrive.

Medication or Drug Overdose

A person can overdose on both prescription or illicit drugs, or a combination of both, if a toxic level of substances enters the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "every day, approximately 130 people die from an opioid overdose in the United States" alone. An overdose can inhibit or interfere with the brain and body's ability to function. and that can cause severe health consequences if the person survives. Unfortunately, the symptoms of an overdose can often mimic those of drug usage, making it difficult to identify when medical attention is needed. Symptoms to look out for are unconsciousness or unresponsiveness, trouble breathing, and the lips or fingers turning blue. If you see any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. To help alleviate avoidable deaths, many states have adopted a "good samaritan" law that will allow the person calling for medical attention immunity or protection from persecution if they are involved as well.

Identifying a Concussion

A concussion is a brain injury caused by a blunt force blow to the head or through the shaking of the head and upper body. While some concussions are mild, others can be more severe and come with equally severe side effects. For mild concussions, temporary symptoms can vary but include trouble concentrating, lack of coordination, and impaired reflexes, speech, or memory. Concussions can happen at any age. For kids and teens, most concussions occur during play or sports, with contact sports like football and hockey causing the most sports-related head injuries. Concussions can also occur during falls or car accidents. If you suspect you or your loved one has a concussion, seeking medical attention as soon as possible can help limit the severity of symptoms. Keep an eye on the injured person for signs of a more severe concussion such as seizures, vomiting, and loss of consciousness.

Treating Open Wounds

A wound can be any damaged or broken skin that leaves the internal tissue exposed. With an open wound, the biggest concern is the risk for infection. Even small lacerations can become infected and infections can cause fever, swelling, or spread to deeper tissue. While smaller wounds can be treated at home, some may require medical attention so professionals can treat the area for infection, close the wound, and properly care for the injury. If you get a minor open wound, apply light pressure to the area until bleeding stops. Since some medications act as blood thinners, be careful about what you take to reduce pain and swelling as this could impact the time it takes for bleeding to stop. Once the bleeding has stopped, you can carefully rinse the wound with water to remove any debris that could be carrying germs and pat the area dry with a clean cloth or towel. If any extra skin, tissue, or skin flaps exists, carefully position it back in place and cover with a moist pad. You can then cover the wound with a dressing and wrap it lightly with gauze or a bandage.

Seek immediate medical help if you suspect your wound is becoming infected or the wound is more severe, as in cases where it is more than a half inch deep and bleeding is not easily controlled. Medical professionals can also help remove debris that cannot be removed at home. For open wounds caused by animals or contaminated objects, medical attention is vital as animal bites need to be treated quickly to prevent disease and possible death. In some cases, you can nurse a person back to health yourself, but knowing when to see a medical professional can be life-saving.

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