First Aid Myths: Busted! - Ian Blackburn, Life Saving Training
On nearly every First Aid course we deliver at Life Saving Training, we’re required to debunk a number of First Aid myths. Some can be quite entertaining - but it always worries us when we hear these myths being perpetuated by others and want to make sure that you can sort first aid fact from first aid fiction! Let the debunking commence…
First Aid Myth: ‘You can’t use the Heimlich Manoeuvre anymore or you’ll be sued by the Heimlich family’.
We’ve heard many people tell us that we’re not allowed to use the term ‘Heimlich Manoeuvre’. We’ve also been reliably informed that we certainly can’t use the technique to save a life without being sued, unless royalties to use it are paid!
In fact, you can use the term and the manoeuvre. So where did this myth come from? It’s likely it actually came from ‘The Onion’ - an American satire website that creates stories so ridiculous that they can’t possibly be believed, for laughs. This seems to have been missed by some who have taken it as fact - even the part where it is suggested that the person choking will also be sued!
Instead of using the term ‘Heimlich Manoeuvre’, we tend to use the term ‘abdominal thrusts’. This isn’t because we’re scared, it’s because this term is more descriptive. Not surprisingly, as long as you know how to stop someone from choking to death from your First Aid training - the name you use doesn’t actually matter.
Figure 1 - Candidates on one of our courses using an Anti-Choking Vest to safely practice abdominal thrusts.
First Aid Myth: ‘If someone feels faint, put their head between their legs’.
This is a popular treatment we often see on TV. However, we don’t want to do that. If the casualty does faint, they’re likely to fall forwards and land on their face or head, making the situation worse - for you and them.
People faint when blood flow to the brain isreduced. The best First Aid for someone who feels faint is to lie them down and raise their legs to increase blood flow to the brain.
First Aid Myth: ‘The ambulance will be here a minute or two after calling 999’.
Unfortunately, that’s not usually how it works. How long an ambulance may take to reach you will depend on why you called them, whether you live in a city or are rural, where the closest ambulance is to you, what other emergencies are going on at the same time, whether you are easy to find, whether you can be easily accessed by road and lots of other factors. People can bleed to death in seconds and die through not breathing in minutes — so, what the First Aid bystanders do (or don’t do) in the meantime, can quite simply make the difference between life and death.
First Aid Myth: ‘It's better to do nothing than risk making things worse’.
Afraid not. If someone is bleeding to death and we do nothing - not surprisingly, they’ll die. If someone isn’t breathing and we do nothing - they’ll die. If they’re unresponsive on their back and unable to breathe past their tongue or vomit - they’ll die. So, it would be pretty difficult to make any of these situations worse. Better still, learn First Aid, keep it refreshed and have the skills and confidence to help.
First Aid Myth: ‘You must never, ever move someone with a potential spinal injury’.
It’s wise to consider spinal injury, but having an airway, being able to breathe and not bleeding to death are also hugely important. After all, there’s no point in having the best looking spine in all of the mortuary.
Figure 2 - Candidates on one of our courses safely learn and practice how to perform a spinal roll.
First Aid Myth: ‘Calling 112 on your mobile gives the emergency services your location’.
Unfortunately not. Calling 112 or 999 gets you through to the same place in the UK. The emergency services will still need to know where you are so that they can come and help.
Thankfully, there’s lots of ways to know where you are these days. You can use Google Maps) in urban areas or near roads, OS Locate off the beaten track and what3words for either.
First Aid Myth: ‘People suffering from suspected Heart attack should lie down, rather than sit up’.
Lying down can actually make it more difficult to breathe. A half-sitting position (sometimes known as the ‘Lazy W’ or ‘W position’) with their knees bent and head and shoulders supported is best.
Figure 3 - Figure 2 - Here, during a Mountain Rescue training exercise, a person is placed in the stretcher in the Lazy W Position.
First Aid Myth: ‘Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest are the same thing’.
Nope. Although the media and many other agencies use the terms Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest interchangeably - they’re totally different things. At a basic level, the easiest way to distinguish between the two is that a person experiencing a Heart Attack will still be breathing. A person in Cardiac Arrest won’t.
First Aid Myth: ‘A person who is having a Heart Attack should try ‘Cough CPR’ by coughing hard whilst getting themselves to hospital’.
Nope! The ‘Cough CPR’ myth has been around for a while now. If you see it, please avoid spreading it further and feel free to tell the person talking about it that there’s no truth in it. You can’t stop a heart attack by coughing. We’ve heard about cough CPR so often that we’ve created our own evidence based blog about it!
First Aid Myth: ‘You can’t put plasters on children in case they’re allergic to them’.
There’s no rule that says that an adult is not allowed to put a plaster on a child. The important thing is to stop the bleeding and cover the wound. If you know a person is allergic to plasters - get some hypo-allergenic plasters to use instead. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) keeps getting the blame for this one - so they’ve created this advice.
First Aid Myth: ‘You must be trained to use an Automated External Defibrillator’.
Public Access Defibrillators (PADs) such as those on the outside of buildings and in public access areas are designed to be used by anyone. Once switched on, they talk you through everything you need to do. So, if you’ve never been trained - just switch it on and follow the instructions. You should be able to find First Aid Training that includes hands-on AED training - to give you the confidence to use one in a real situation.
First Aid Myth: ‘If you have a nosebleed, you should tilt your head back’.
If you tilt the head back, blood can go down the throat - which isn’t ideal. Instead, we should tilt the head forward, pinch the nostrils shut (just beyond the bony part of the nose) and encourage the casualty to breathe through their mouth. If bleeding hasn’t stopped within 30 minutes, the casualty needs to go to hospital.
First Aid Myth: ‘Put butter on burns’.
Butter? On a burn?! Butter is great on lots of things - but a burn isn’t one of them. Instead, use cool running water for at least 20 minutes to remove the heat. If possible, remove any jewellery or watches unless sticking to the burn and cover the burn with a layer of cling film or similar. Don’t be tempted to wrap the cling film around the burn, just lay it over the skin. Keep your butter for your crumpets.
First Aid Myth: ‘If someone’s been poisoned - get them to vomit’.
This can actually make things worse. If the substance caused damage when it went into the body, it can cause further damage as it leaves. Call 999 and get them to sip cold water or milk if they have burnt lips from a corrosive substance.
First Aid Myth: ‘If an unresponsive person has vomit in their mouth, scoop it out with your fingers’.
Don’t be tempted to put your fingers into the mouth of an unresponsive casualty to scoop vomit out. It’s ineffective - you’re not going to get it all out, you could push vomit (or anything else) further in and there’s always the possibility that the casualty might bite you without meaning to. Instead, get them into a draining position and let gravity take its course.
Hopefully that’s clarified a few of the First Aid myths out there!
Ian Blackburn is the Technical Director and Lead Trainer/Assessor at Life Saving Training and an operational Casualty Carer (Medic) for Mountain Rescue. Ian achieved a Law degree before honing his skills as an expert trainer in a variety of high profile management, training and development roles. Frustrated by the lack of quality First Aid training available, in 2012 Ian embarked upon a mission to create Life Saving Training. Ian has a keen sense of humour, enjoys mountaineering, climbing, trail running and is a Rescue Diver. We'll have more from Ian and Life Saving Training soon, but you can find more from them on their website and blog here; https://www.lifesavingtraining.co.uk/