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Debunking 7 First-Aid Myths

Learn proven methods for first aid for minor injuries and illnesses

Minor injuries and illnesses are usually treated at home, often with the help of a well-stocked first-aid kit and knowing what to do. The best outcomes come from using proven first aid methods.

Chandini Rathee, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Encinitas cautions that many home remedies handed down through generations are not proven or effective and, in many cases, not even safe.


“Understanding the difference between first-aid myths and proven first aid treatments helps reduce the risk of causing more harm than good,” Dr. Rathee says. “It’s always best to know what to do in a specific situation and what not to do.”


You may benefit by taking a first-aid course and learning the science behind the training.


The following are seven common first-aid myths and what you should do instead.


Myth 1. Put butter on a burn


First-degree burns can be treated at home, but don’t pull out the butter from the fridge. Butter does nothing for burns except add foreign particles and increase the risk of infection.

Minor burns need to be cooled, so run cool running water over the burned area for 10 to 20 minutes. Wrap or apply an over-the-counter antibiotic to prevent infection.


Minor burns may also be treated at walk-in clinics, including at Scripps HealthExpress clinics across San Diego County.


Myth 2. Tip your head back for a nosebleed


Never tilt your head back to stop a nosebleed as it will only make the blood flow down the throat into the lungs or into the stomach, which may cause vomiting.


To stop a bloody nose, lean slightly forward and pinch the soft part of your nose, just below the bony part where glasses sit, using your thumb and index finger. Press firmly for five to 10 minutes.


If a bloody nose follows an accident or injury to the head, seek medical attention immediately. Also contact your primary care doctor if you have frequent nosebleeds or if they are difficult to control.


Myth 3. Put ice only for a twisted knee or ankle


When treating a twisted or sprained knee or ankle, apply an ice pack initially to reduce pain and swelling. But there is more to do. For self-care use the RICE approach: rest, ice, compress gently with a bandage and elevate the injured area over the level of your heart.


To use ice effectively, place it on the affected area in a thin towel, 20 minutes at a time. Don‘t apply heat as this could increase swelling and keep the injury from healing as quickly as it could.


Myth 4. Apply a cold steak to a black eye


Your frozen steak may have bacteria on it, so covering your injured eye with it is not recommended. Instead, apply a crushed ice pack or a package of frozen vegetables to the affected area for 10 minutes at a time. If the eyeball is damaged or vision is impaired, see your doctor.


Myth 5. Clean a cut or scrape with hydrogen peroxide


Using hydrogen peroxide to clean an injury can harm the tissue and delay healing.


The best way to treat a minor cut or scrape is to clean it with cool water, rinsing thoroughly to remove dirt, debris and bacteria. Protect the injury with a bandage and see your doctor for a wound that is large, deep or bleeding heavily.


Myth 6. Suck out venom from a snake bite


If you are bitten by a venomous snake, stay calm and seek medical care quickly for symptoms that may include extreme pain, swelling and color change at the site and lightheadedness. Don’t use your mouth to suck out the venom as that can introduce more germs and bacteria. You may also accidentally swallow some of the venom and cause more problems to your health.


Myth 7. Squeeze out stinger after insect sting


If stung by an insect, remove the stinger as quickly as possible. But don‘t squeeze it out as this can release venom faster and cause more pain. Use a fingernail or credit card edge to scrape a stinger. Wash the affected area with soap and water, use ice to reduce swelling and avoid scratching the sting area.


Most insect stings are harmless and cause nothing more than minor discomfort. But some can trigger a serious allergic reaction or infection that requires medical treatment.


Healthy Life is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps Health. For more information, or for a physician referral, visit www.scripps.org or call 1-800-Scripps.

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