Each year, there are 136.9 million emergency room visits in the United States alone. And while there are some injuries that merit an immediate ambulance ride, there are countless others that can be helped with a few simple precautions taken before the professionals arrive. By the time you’re in your 40s, it’s likely you’ve had to test your first-aid skills a few times in your life, whether helping clean up your kid’s skinned knee or a teammate’s injury, and knowing how to practice those skills in case of an emergency situation can do more than come in handy—it might just save someone’s life.
Even if you went through some first aid training in your younger years, chances are you’re probably due for a refresher. With that in mind, it’s time to rediscover these 40 basic first-aid skills. And for more first aid hacks, check out these 10 Home Health Tests That Can Save Your Life.
Treat a Sprain
If you land wrong or do something dumb while trying to play a game of soccer or flag football, you might end up with a painful and swollen sprained ankle or wrist. If so, follow the RICE method: Rest (sitting down and not exerting yourself); Ice (applying an ice pack to the injured body part for 15 to 20 minutes at a time); Compression (using an elastic bandage to reduce swelling—but not wrapping it too tightly); and Elevation (keeping it lifted above your heart, especially at night). That may be enough to help you recover, but if not, you may want to seek medical treatment.
Heal a Bruise
When a blow or some kind of impact causes blood vessels to burst near the skin’s surface, it can look unsightly and hurt badly. Usually, just leaving it alone to heal is sufficient, but if you’re looking to speed the healing along, follow the same RICE strategy used for a sprain and you should be set. If bruising persists, consider consulting a doctor. And see some surprising life-savers by checking out these 40 Animals That Are Real-Life Heroes.
Splint a Broken Bone
If someone sustains a more serious injury, like breaking their arm or leg, after you call for medical assistance and stop any bleeding and reduce swelling using ice, find a way to immobilize the injured appendage using a makeshift splint. You can do this by simply rolling up newspaper or using a ruler or solid branch, and tying it to arm or leg using tape or rope. The goal is to hold the appendage in place to avoid any further pain or damage.
Deal With a Foreign Object in the Eye
Whether caused by a bug or bit of dust, we’ve all had the unpleasant experience of having something stuck in our eye. If the unwanted visitor doesn’t work itself out on its own right away, you might need to take a few first-aid steps: After washing your hands, look at the eye with a bright light, having the affected person look up while pulling the lower lid down and vice versa. Pull the upper eyelid down over the lower or the lower over the upper, either of which can brush the object out. Flush with flowing water or try tapping the object with a damp cotton swab. If none of these work, you’ve got a more serious issue on your hands.
Deal With a Larger Object Stuck In the Eye
If the object has rough edges, contains chemicals, makes it hard to close your eye, or remains after taking those basic first-aid steps, seek medical treatment. Bandage the eye with a clean gauze and restrict movement (if the object is in another person’s eye, cover their uninjured eye as well to prevent the affected eye from moving before you head to the doctor). If there’s a large object in the eye, cover it with a paper cup to keep it from moving and get to the hospital.
Treat a First-Degree Burn
By the time you are 40, you will no doubt have experienced your share of first-degree burns—those superficial burns you get when you accidentally touch a hot pan or stay out in the sun longer than you should. To treat these, put a cold compress on the affected area or run cold water over it for up to 15 minutes, until the pain tapers off. Then put aloe vera or antibiotic ointment on the area and wait for it to heal. Just make sure to avoid using oils on the area, which may prolong healing time. And for more ways to maximize your health, check out the 15 Hacks to Apply Your Sunscreen More Easily.
Treat a Second-Degree Burn
A second-degree burn, in which more than just the top layer of skin is damaged, is more serious than one of the first-degree variety, but can still be treated easily. To treat these, keep the area around the burn clean and apply a bandage to it lightly in order to prevent infection and possibly apply antibiotic cream. Then, wait for it to heal—it can take around three weeks, depending on the severity. If a widespread area is affected, seek medical treatment.
Respond to a Third-Degree Burn
These are the especially nasty burns in which the damage extends through every layer of skin, leaving the skin charred, leathery, or a waxy, white color. While a third-degree burn might not even hurt as much as you’d expect, since the skin can be burned through to the nerves, these require immediate medical assistance. While waiting for treatment, raise the injury above your heart and make sure no clothing or fabric is stuck in the affected area. Skin grafts or more serious medical responses may be necessary, so get ye to a hospital.
Treat for Shock
Shock—a sudden drop in blood flow through the body—can result from blood loss, trauma, poisoning, severe burns, or a wide range of other injuries or ailments and generally comes along with symptoms such as rapid breathing or pulse. To help someone who may be suffering from shock, elevate their legs and feet slightly, loosening tight clothing and checking for any bleeding or other more serious injuries.
Respond to a Heart Attack
If someone is having uncomfortable pressure in their chest, shortness of breath, or feels pain spreading into their back, shoulders, and arms, they may be suffering from a heart attack. After calling 911, help the person sit down (to avoid any injury should they collapse) and give them an aspirin tablet to chew, which helps thin the blood. Get medical treatment as soon as possible. And for more heart hacks, don’t miss the 30 Best Ways to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk.
Respond to a Stroke
When there is bleeding in the brain or blood flow to the brain is blocked, you will need to get medical treatment right away. Use the FAST acronym to remember the symptoms of stroke: Face (it may droop to one side or seem asymmetrical), Arms (one arm may remain lower than the other when the person tries to raise their arms), Speech (it may be slurred or difficult), and Time (as in, every second counts and you should get the victim medical help as soon as possible).
Deal with a Severe Cut
A little cut requiring a Band-Aid is no big deal, but if you or someone else gets a more serious wound it’s going to require a bit more consideration. After rinsing the wound, apply pressure using a sterile gauze or clean cloth. If blood soaks through, apply another bandage on top of the first one (rather than removing it). Raise the injured part of the body to slow the bleeding and continue to apply pressure until the bleeding stops.
Deal with Dehydration
Dehydration is both extremely common and often misunderstood. Dehydration results from not replacing both the water and salt that make up a sizable amount of our bodies. It results in a wide range of symptoms, from headaches to muscle cramps to dark urine. Rehydrating is, of course, an immediate way to help counter the effects of dehydration, but also consider having a sports drink to help replenish electrolytes. If you let it go too long and actually break out in a fever, or develop a rapid heartbeat or low blood pressure, it’s time to seek professional attention.
Relieve Heat Exhaustion
If you’re at an outdoor festival or hiking for several hours in the sun and suddenly start feeling faint or ill, you may be suffering from heat exhaustion. Respond to it by resting in a cool place, ideally an air conditioned building, with your legs elevated higher than your heart. Drink cool fluids, loosen any tight clothing, and consider taking a cool shower. If that doesn’t work, you should seek medical help.
If someone’s body fully overheats, they may get hit by heatstroke, resulting in all kinds of nasty side effects, including nausea and vomiting, fast breathing, and an altered mental state. As with heat exhaustion, the sufferer should be moved to a cool place and immersed in cool water (a cold or even icy bath should be helpful) or pack them in a cooling blanket until medical professionals can be reached.
The cold cousin of heatstroke, hypothermia results from when a person’s body temperature reaches abnormally low levels, causing shallow breathing, shivering, and confusion or slurred speech. If someone is suffering from hypothermia, get them indoors, warm and dry (that may mean removing wet clothes and wrapping them in a blanket). One thing to keep in mind: You should restore warmth slowly, applying it to their trunk first and not starting on a high temperature immediately, or else you will risk causing them shock.
Respond to Frostbite
When parts of a person body or skin are overexposed to extremely cold temperatures, it can result in numbness and freezing of the skin and its underlying tissues. Treat it by getting the person to a warm and dry place and gently warm the skin with warm water. Just remember to keep the temperature warm, not hot, and avoid using heating pads, radiators, or fires—if the skin has gone numb, the victim may get too close and burn their skin without even realizing it.
Deal with a Nosebleed
While they may look alarming, nosebleeds can result from something as simple as dryness in the air and can be aided by having the victim sit down and bend forward, keeping their head above the level of their heart. Have them pinch the soft part of their nose together with their fingers until the bleeding stops (it might take five or 10 minutes). If the bleeding goes on longer or becomes a chronic condition, they should seek out medical assistance just as you would for a more serious injury.
Rescue Someone from Drowning
It’s a classic hero moment: the kid in the water waving his hands begging to be rescued. But while it might be tempting to try and save the day, that can pose plenty of dangers, as well. If a person is in need of help and showing all the signs of drowning (bobbing in and out of the water, looking like they are having trouble), first call for help, then reach for the nearest floatation device, whether a shepherd’s crook or ring buoy, and extend to the victim. Only swim out to them as a last resort and after you’ve assessed that there is nothing that could harm you as well.
Refresh Your First Aid Kit
You hopefully have a first aid kit around the house with a handful of bandages and ointments. If you don’t, it’s time to get one (Amazon has a huge number of options). If you have one, check that it’s got all the items recommended by the American Red Cross, including tweezers, an instant cold compress and nonlatex gloves. Also check that the ointments and other items in there have not expired—if they have, it’s time to refresh them.
Handle a Venomous Snake Bite
Snakes are plenty frightening—just ask Indiana Jones. And they can be legitimately dangerous if you’re partial to hiking or spending time in the outdoors. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, it can cause nausea, swelling, even convulsing and paralysis. The first priority if bitten by a venomous snake is to stay calm, call 911, and stay as still as possible to keep the venom from traveling through your body—traveling by vehicle or being carried, if possible. Take a picture of the snake if you have a chance, to help medical responders know what they’re dealing with. And despite what you’ve seen on TV, sucking the venom out by mouth or using a tourniquet are not wise ways of dealing with it.
Relieve an Insect Bite
A bite or sting from a bee, ant or wasp can be far more painful than their small size might lead you to expect and can present serious risks for someone who is allergic to these tiny creatures. If the person who is bit is allergic, ask someone to call 911 and find out if the victim has an EpiPen, administering it if so. If allergies are not a concern, remove the stinger by gently scraping a flat-edged object (like a credit card) across the skin, then washing the area with soap and water and applying a cold compress or ice pack for 10-minute increments. Once the immediate pain has subsided, apply calamine lotion to help with longer-term relief from itching and discomfort. And for more ways to maximize your insect knowledge, check out the The 35 Most Dangerous Bugs in America.
Survey the Scene
This one doesn’t involve actually administering aid, but it’s the first thing anyone responding to an injury or emergency should do reflexively. That is: if someone looks injured or in need of help, before running over to offer a hand, take a look at the whole situation and be sure there’s nothing dangerous still happening that could endanger you or someone else. If someone’s been attacked by a shark, it’s not going to do anyone any good for you to run in after them and get attacked, too. If someone’s been hurt by falling debris, don’t walk into a spot where more will fall on you. Make sure the scene is safe before you take any action.
A handy way to think through the steps you want to take before taking any first aid steps is the acronym CLAP. This stands for: Control the situation (directing people to steer clear or to help), Look for potential hazards, Assess the situation (gathering details about what occurred from the victim or onlookers), and Protect/prioritize (ensuring protection is worn and that those with most urgent needs are being attended to).
Ask SAMPLE Questions
If the person you’re helping is responsive, after following the CLAP steps, you should follow through with SAMPLE questions about the individual’s medical history. That is: Signs and symptoms, Allergies, Medications, Pertinent past history, Last meal, and Events leading up to injury. By gathering this information, you—or a medical professional—will have a much easier time determining what caused the problem.
You should put on protective gear before administering any kind of aid to another person, especially strangers. For your own safety, you must avoid coming into contact with any bodily fluid, which means wearing gloves, using eye protection, and using a disposable mouthpiece if attempting CPR. After all, you don’t want to endanger yourself while in the process of trying to help someone else.
Don’t Go It Alone
If first aid is necessary, you should get assistance from those around you, whether that’s delegating a bystander to call 911 or to have someone else help administer first aid, help you transport the victim, or offer their own expertise. The point is to get others to offer assistance when possible, both so you don’t exhaust yourself and to ensure the victim is receiving the best care possible.
Wash Your Hands
After administering any kind of aid, you should wash your hands—even if you were wearing gloves or some kind of protective gear. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer. You want to do all you can to prevent illness and disease, and every step helps. And for more hand-washing help, discover How You’re Washing Your Hands All Wrong.
Know When to Begin CPR
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which helps jumpstart the circulation of blood and oxygen for someone who is not breathing, should only be done in specific conditions. You should begin CPR if a person is unconscious or unresponsive to verbal and physical stimulation (e.g. pinching the skin on the back of their hands); they are not breathing (you can check this by tilting their head up slightly, placing your ear above their mouth and watching the victim’s chest for movement while listening for breath); and their pulse is irregular or nonexistent.
Get CPR Certified
Of course, before you administer CPR, you must be certified in it. If you go pounding on chests or administering breaths like you’ve seen in the movies, you could end up doing some serious damage. Take an American Red Cross or similarly credentialed program and get up to speed on the proper administration of CPR so you will be prepared should it become necessary.
Follow That CAB
Another acronym! If CPR is necessary, you will want to follow the letters CAB. This stands for Compressions (giving 100 to 120 compressions per minute in cycles of 30 compressions followed by two breaths), Airway (clearing the airway after each set of compressions by lifting the person’s chin and tipping back their head), and Breaths (giving two rescue breaths into the cleared airway before returning to compressions).
Know Your Way Around an AED
Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can now be found in most offices and many public places and are easily used by those who know what they’re doing. After turning the AED on, opening the person’s shirt and attaching the pads, you push the “analyze” button, which checks the person’s heart rhythm and will advise if a shock is necessary. If it is, after ensuring no one is touching the person, press the “shock” button” and then begin CPR, performing it for two minutes before repeating the AED process.
Relax a Muscle Cramp
Anyone who’s ever experienced a muscle cramp knows just how painful they can be. To deal with one of these, gently massage and stretch the affected muscle group, rest, and drink water or an electrolyte-filled sports drink to calm that angry muscle.
Manage Back Strain
Whether you just helped a friend move or got a little too intense at the company softball game, back strain is bound to happen, especially as you get older. If you’re unlucky enough to have to deal with this, you can treat it first by resting, cutting back on your normal activities and putting ice on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time for up to 48 hours after the injury. Apply pressure by wrapping with an elastic bandage and consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help relieve the pain and reduce the swelling.
Deal With a Broken Tooth
While you’re more likely to sustain a broken tooth in childhood, whether from a particularly raucous game of dodgeball or a particularly solid ice cream sandwich, it’s an injury countless adults also endure each year. If you find yourself with a cracked or broken tooth, first collect the teeth or tooth fragments, and rinse them in lukewarm water to remove any dirt or blood. Store the teeth in whole milk or between your cheek and gum to prevent them from drying, and bring them to a dentist or emergency room to see about getting them reinserted as soon as possible.
Know Where to Put Severed Digits
If you or someone should actually lose a finger or toe, after you control the bleeding, you will want to keep that detached appendage cool in order to give doctors the greatest chance of reattaching it, ideally by putting it in a plastic bag and putting it in ice water. Avoid completely surrounding the missing appendage in ice, however—if it’s too cold, it may become harder to reattach.
Be Extra Cautious about Spinal Injuries
In any first-aid situation that may involve a head or neck injury, you should be extra wary of moving the victim. If you did not witness the injury or are not sure if a spinal injury occurred, assume that it did and encourage the person to stay as still as possible until medical professionals arrive, stabilizing the head and neck if necessary.
Know How to Move a Conscious Injured Person
If you have ensured that a spinal injury is not a risk, but the person needs to be transported—either to get them to help or to get them away from potential further danger (such as a car accident)—you can use several different types of carries to ensure they are not caused any additional trauma. These include simply helping them walk (draping their arm over your neck and walking with them), using a fireman’s carry (actually hoisting them over your shoulder), or using a pack-strap carry (in which you hold their crossed arms over your shoulders as you walk).
Know How to Move an Unconscious Injured Person
Things can be a bit more challenging when dealing with an unconscious injured person. Your options include simply grabbing them under the armpits and pulling them while cradling their head in your arms, rolling them onto a blanket or sleeping bag and pulling, or grabbing them by their feet and pulling.
Manage Head Trauma
If someone is struck on the head, even if they seem to have sustained few injuries, their injury may still pose a serious health risk and should be taken seriously. Stop any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound (unless you suspect the skull might be fractured) and call for medical assistance. Treat them with the precautions you use for those with suspected spinal injuries and monitor them for breathing and alertness, watching out for issues like confusion, slurred speech, or loss of balance.
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