First aid is not extensive medical training but it can be enough to make a difference. It can mean instead of feeling helpless you can do something and, hopefully, improve someone’s chance of survival.
The most commons causes of needless death from a lack of first aid are:
- choking and breathing difficulties
- severe bleeding
- heart attack/heart not beating
Choking and Breathing Difficulties
An obstruction in the mouth or throat can cause choking and an inability to breath. To help:
- Encourage the casualty to cough.
- Check inside their mouth if they are young and see if you can remove the item - be careful not to push it in further though.
- Support them with one hand, lean them forwards and give up to five sharp blows to the back between the shoulder blades.
- Give up to five abdominal thrusts: stand behind the casualty, link your hands together below the rib cage then pull sharply inwards and upwards.
If someone stops breathing call for help immediately. You can send someone else or do one minute of basic life support and then make the call.
- Lie them on the floor and check their airway.
- Tilt their head back (use one hand on their jaw and one on their forehead to slide head back) so their tongue is not blocking their throat and watch their chest for movement.
- Watch for 10 seconds and if there is movement you can make that call.
- If there are no movements you need to perform basic life support:
- Position the heel of your hand in the middle of their chest and lock your other hands on top for added support.
- Keep your arms straight and use your body weight to push down firmly. Do 30 compressions at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute which is faster than you think and more tiring than you may expect but concentrate on the push and try and make the chest move down by 5cm each time.
You need to get air into the casualty’s lungs so “rescue breaths” are needed.
- Tilt their head back to open the airway, pinch their nose and take a deep breath. Seal your lips over their mouth (you don’t want air to escape, you want it to be forced inside them) and breath steadily to release the air into them.
- Let their chest fall and then do another rescue breath.
Check for signs of breathing but if there is still nothing then it’s back to another 30 compressions before two more rescue breaths.
If the blood supply to the heart becomes blocked a heart attack is the result. The signs to look for are intense chest pain, breathlessness, ashen skin with blue lips and feeling faint.
This is serious stuff so phone for the emergency services and request an ambulance immediately. (Yes, that is first aid as if you don’t call for trained help quickly you are delaying the casualty’s recovery.) Keep the casualty calm and encourage them to rest. If you have access to an aspirin given them 1 tablet (300mg) to chew.
If they are unconscious you need to check they are breathing and move them into the recovery position.
The wound location will obviously make a difference but the basics to remember are:
- Clean the wound.
- Cover the wound.
- Elevate the wound. (Raise the injured area above heart level.)
When the wound is more severe you will need to apply direct pressure to the wound and use elevation to help stem the bleeding. You’ll want to prevent shock too so get the casualty to lie down and to raise their feet.
This little bit of advice is not going to turn you into a doctor overnight but it could give you more confidence to help someone in difficulty. There are lots of first aid courses available (British Red Cross and St John Ambulance are the main providers in the UK) and it shouldn't only be something you learn if you’re a workplace First Aider as these are true life skills.