10 Common First Aid Myths and the Truths Behind Them

butterWhether you’re a parent or a childcare provider, you know that kids and mishaps go together like peanut butter and jelly. Skinned knees, scraped elbows, burned fingers and bloody noses are all in a day’s work when kids are involved, so it’s no surprise that most parents and nannies are never far from a first aid kit. When it comes to treating common injuries, however, you may be surprised to realize that some of the most common bits of wisdom aren’t actually true at all. These are ten of the most widespread first aid wives’ tales, and the truth behind them.

  1. Butter Soothes Burns – Grandma may have sworn that butter was the best way to take the sting out of a minor burn, but all you’re really doing is running the risk of introducing more bacteria to the area. Furthermore, the only burns that can be safely treated at home are those of the first-degree variety. If the burned area turns white, loses feeling or blisters, put down the stick of butter and head to the doctor’s office.
  2. Holding Your Head Back is Proper Procedure During a Nosebleed – The old adage about tossing your head backwards in the event of a nosebleed is so ingrained that most adults instinctively tilt someone’s head backwards at the first sign of a bloody nose. Tipping a child’s head backwards to ward off a bloody nose might stop it from running out of a nostril, but it sends the blood down the throat and into the stomach where it can cause vomiting. Furthermore, it’s easier to breathe the blood into the lungs when his head is tilted back.
  3. Vinegar Soothes Sunburns – While kids should be slathered in sunscreen to prevent skin damage, the occasional sunburn may still rear its ugly head. Folk wisdom holds that a vinegar compress takes the sting out of the sunburn, but emergency medicine physician Richard O’Brien doesn’t recommend applying acid to a burn. Instead, reach for cool compresses and Noxzema.
  4. Ipecac is a Safe Remedy for Ingestion of Dangerous Substances – Once upon a time, inducing vomiting with ipecac was common procedure when a child ingested something he shouldn’t. Health Watch Center insists that parents should throw out their bottles of ipecac, instead reaching instinctively for the phone to dial a poison control center (in the US 800-222-1212).
  5. People Having a Seizure Need a Bite Block – Every old movie shows an enterprising onlooker shoving a belt into the mouth of someone suffering a seizure, lest that person “swallow their own tongue.” It’s not possible to swallow your tongue, so use that time to clear the area of dangerous objects, and keep your fingers out of the patient’s mouth.
  6. Raw Steaks Cure Black Eyes – The idea that a black eye can be successfully treated with a slab of raw meat probably stems from the fact that cold compresses can reduce swelling. Reach for the ice instead of your uncooked dinner, however, because plastering a black eye with raw steak only introduces contaminants like E. coli to the eye.
  7. Putting the Head Between the Knees Stops Dizziness – Forcing a child to put his head between his knees when he feels faint might be advice your grandmother would have given, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s accurate. The child could still faint with his head down, falling forward and injuring himself.
  8. Paper Bags Are the Only Remedy for Hyperventilation – Breathing into a paper bag is a widespread remedy for hyperventilation, but it can actually be quite dangerous if it causes low oxygen levels. Rather than forcing a bag over his mouth, encourage a child to breathe slowly until he can relax on his own.
  9. Suck the Venom from a Snake Bite – Unless you’re a family filled with avid outdoors enthusiasts, the chances of a child being bitten by a snake are relatively slim. Should the unthinkable occur however, don’t cut into the wound or try to such the venom out with your mouth. Suction can further damage tissues, while introducing the bacteria from your mouth into the puncture wound. Instead, call emergency services immediately.
  10. Ice Baths are the Best Remedy for a High Fever – There’s something very scary about a high fever, especially when the sufferer is a child. Folk wisdom may state that the only route to relief is a dunk in ice water, but that’s actually more dangerous because it causes shivering, which raises core temperature.

Treating a minor injury is the work of a moment, but you should always contact a medical professional or seek emergency help if you feel that a more extensive injury is beyond the scope of your skills.

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