first aid

The 4 most common first aid myths you need to be aware of

Posted on 15th Aug, 2018 | By Lorretta Tatham

Getting first aid right the first time can make all the difference between solving an emergency, or simply making it worse. Unfortunately, over the years there are a lot of myths that have cropped up about first aid, whether they’re erroneous lessons learned from films and TV, or half-remembered ‘tricks’ that can do more harm than good. This week we’re lifting the lid on four of the most common first aid myths – and what you should do instead!

Use cold water or butter to treat a burn

The butter myth appears to be surprisingly common. If you’ve never heard of it, it appears to be an old wives’ tale that has survived into the present day. However, putting anything oily like butter on the burn can make it far more difficult for a GP to treat later, in addition to being completely ineffective in actually treating the burn itself.

Meanwhile, water can be helpful, but it’s important for it to be cool water, not cold. This distinction is very important, as any sudden changes in temperature could cause a burn to become more painful and serious.

What you should do instead:

Run the burn under cool water for a few moments if possible, and keep the affected area clean and loosely covered with a dry, sterile dressing until it can be seen to be a professional.

If someone has a nosebleed, tilt their head back


This is one of those many first aid myths for which pop culture is largely to blame. Whenever anyone suffers a blow to the nose, or a sudden nosebleed in films or TV, one of the first things you see them doing is tilting their head back. In real life, however, advising someone to do this has some rather unpleasant consequences. If they tilt their head back, the blood could run down their throat and potentially into their stomach. Best case scenario, this causes them to vomit – which is a complication you really don’t need!

What you should do instead:

Lean them forward and let the blood drain from the nose. If the bleeding lasts for more than 20 minutes, call an ambulance.

Breathing into a paper bag to ease ventilation

This is another myth for which pop culture is mainly to blame! There are all sorts of reasons why someone might hyperventilate (essentially, breathe quickly and shallowly). It’s a very common symptom of panic attacks, as it’s the body’s way of bringing in the maximum amount of oxygen while losing the minimum amount of carbon dioxide, preparing itself for a ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

If they breathe into a paper bag while doing this, what they’re essentially doing is inhaling more carbon dioxide than oxygen, which can cause them to suffer dangerously low oxygen levels.

What you should do instead:

Encourage them to breathe slowly, which should gradually help to calm them. The best way to do this is by asking them to hold their breath, then exhale, then hold another breath. Doing enough of these can gradually slow their breathing to normal levels.

business panic attack

Put something in the mouth of someone suffering a seizure

The theory is that this will stop them swallowing or biting their own tongue. However, in practice this opens them up to the danger of cracking their teeth on the object, or breaking it into pieces, which then presents a choking hazard. That’s not to mention the danger of you getting bitten as you try to do it!

What you should do instead:

Cushion the immediate area as best you can with something like a coat or a blanket. Remove hazards and obstacles from the immediate area, such as errant bystanders and chairs, or hot drinks. When their convulsions stop, check their breathing and put them in the recovery position.

If you’re in any doubt during a medical emergency, the most important thing is not to stand by and do nothing. Indecision or inaction can cause a bad situation to get even worse! If you can, ring the emergency services and let the operator talk you through what to do.

Alternatively, it’s always a brilliant idea to go on a first aid course yourself, so that you can act with confidence. We run a number of first aid courses here at Browns Safety, including our 1-Day Emergency First Aid at Work Course, designed to give you all the basic knowledge and skills you need to deal with an emergency. You can book your place using the link above, or by giving us a call on 01282 615517.

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