7 First Aid Mistakes That Are More Dangerous Than You Think

Treating an injury promptly and properly can have a huge effect on recovery. Still, many patients fall for common misconceptions and handle common wounds the wrong way. We're debunking those myths once and for all.

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The Mistake: Not treating a burn long enough

Forget butter or ice—the best way to soothe burned skin is to run it under cool water. But a few seconds or minutes isn’t enough; you need to do it for at least ten to 20 minutes, says Jeffrey Pellegrino, PhD, of the American Red Cross. “The heat from a burn travels deep into your skin, where it can continue to destroy tissue even if you’ve cooled the surface,” he says. “You need the cold to soak in to prevent further damage.” When you can't get to a doctor, these are medical procedures that you can do at home.

The Mistake: Tilting your head back during a nose bleed

This can cause the blood to drain into the back of your throat, which can make you gag or cough, potentially obstructing breathing. Instead, apply direct pressure by pinching your nose, but keep your head in a neutral position with your chin parallel to the ground. Sit and stay relaxed. Teach these first aid tips to your kids now.

The Mistake: Putting heat on a sprain or fracture

“Always apply cold initially,” says William Gluckman, DO, spokesman for the Urgent Care Association of America. Ice helps decrease swelling, whereas heat boosts blood flow, which can make swelling worse. Save heat for issues like back spasms. Also try out these genius first aid uses for duct tape.

The Mistake: Try to remove debris from an injured eye

Fishing around for the irritant can worsen the wound and even lead to permanent damage. Instead, protect the eye—secure a paper cup over it with tape so nothing else can get in—and seek immediate care. The only exception is if you get a chemical in your eye; in that case, flush it out with water for about 15 minutes. Follow these safety tips when you're at the beach this summer.

The Mistake: Removing gauze from a bleeding wound

If the pad soaks through, don’t pick it up and replace it—just add a fresh piece of gauze on top, says Chris Cebollero, chief of EMS for Christian Hospital in St. Louis. Clotting factors in the blood surface to help stop the bleeding; picking up the old gauze can remove them and make the wound start bleeding all over again. If that happens, apply pressure to the cut until the bleeding stops, then rinse the wound out (to prevent infection), apply an antibiotic ointment (if not allergic), and rewrap with a bandage.

The Mistake: Not seeking care after a car accident

If you have severe car damage, get checked out at the hospital, even if you feel fine. “Your adrenaline-fueled, fight-or-flight response can mask pain initially,” says Cebollero. “It can be ten minutes or two hours after the accident before you feel something.” Responders at the scene can’t necessarily rule out brain bleeds or broken bones.

The Mistake: Making it hard for the EMT to find you

Say you’re stung by a bee in your backyard and are having a serious allergic reaction. First have someone call 911. Then head to the driveway. Choking in a restaurant? Don’t run to the bathroom. “People die in bathrooms from choking because they don’t want to disturb other diners. They collapse, and nobody knows why,” says Pellegrino. Stay where people can help you.

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