First aid is promptly helping people who are suddenly sick (illnesses) or hurt (injuries or body damage). For example, first aid is used at accidents to help an injured person until they receive medical treatment (help by doctors, nurses or ambulances). First aid is also used to help people who suddenly become sick, until help arrives or they can be taken to medical care.
A person does not need much equipment to give first aid. A package of things useful to give first aid is called a first aid kit. Lives can be saved even without a first aid kit. What is required is basic knowledge. First aid can be done just about anywhere that an emergency requires. In places far from hospitals, first aid may be the only help possible until the person can be taken to a hospital or clinic.
Emergency medical dispatchers are trained in first aid, so that if there is an emergency, they can give the caller some information on what to do until the ambulance arrives. This can include the "C-A-B" listed below.
Goals of first aid
First aid skills are kept simple on purpose so that people can remember and use them in an emergency to save at least one life.
One set of goals of first aid is called the "Three P's":
- Preserve life – stop the person from dying
- Prevent further injury – stop the person from being injured even more. If possible, an injured person should not be moved. First aid can include how to safely move injured people -- or move them anyway with less harm if there is no choice.
- Promote recovery – try to help the person heal their injuries
Another set of goals for keeping a badly hurt person alive is sometimes called "C-A-B" :
- Circulation (or Compressions) - keep blood inside the body and the heart beating. Compressions refers to a part of CPR called Hands Only CPR, where someone pushes with their hands on the center of a person's chest over and over again to keep blood flowing to the brain. This requires no kit and only a little training. Emergency medical dispatchers can tell a person how by telephone or radio.
- Keeping blood inside the body can be done using a piece of cloth (which soaks up blood) to apply firm pressure to the bleeding area(s). This "direct pressure" is the simplest and most effective way to stop bleeding. Others such as a tourniquet are taught in first aid classes. If a first aid kit is not there, a cloth "dressing" for direct pressure can be made from ripped or cut clothing. Traditionally it was taught to use the patient’s clothing, if practicable, as any bacteria will be familiar to the patient.
- Airway - keep a path open for air to go from the mouth to the lungs. Turning an ill person on their side if they have vomited ("thrown up") may help keep the airway open so they can breathe. Moving a hurt person can make their injuries worse. But without an airway, a person cannot breathe and will soon die unless an airway can be re-opened. A choking person with no airway can be helped with abdominal thrusts, sometimes called the Heimlich maneuver.
- Breathing - move air from the outside into the lungs. "Giving breaths" is blowing air into someone else's mouth while holding their nose shut and watching their chest rise from the air you blow in. This is taught as part of CPR. A helper could get sick from "giving breaths" to someone who has a disease. A CPR class can teach how to use a CPR mask to make this much safer. A first aid kit may include a CPR mask or barrier device.
People can learn about first aid from books ("manuals") and videos. A good first aid kit will often include a simple First Aid Guide.
It is best to have good training to give first aid. In addition to books and videos, good training includes a good teacher and the chance to practice. For example, CPR is practiced on a dummy called a mannequin, so a student can learn to push down on someone's chest in an emergency without actually doing it to a person. The teacher makes sure the first aid student is doing the skill correctly.
Training can be given by an organization or by a professional medical person, like a doctor, a nurse, or a paramedic. Organizations that teach first aid include the International Red Cross, schools, hospitals, the military, Scout groups, and rescue groups such as fire departments.
The level of training needed to be a first aid helper changes from country to country. For example, in the United Kingdom and the United States, you can go on a 1-day course to become a first aid giver. In the U.K., you can go on a 4-day course for emergencies in a place of work. All firefighters, police officers, and soldiers are trained in first aid during their basic training.
First aid kits
First aid kits may be kept in cloth bags or plastic or metal boxes. They are often labeled with a symbol such as those on the upper right. A first aid kit may contain many items, but basic items that can help with first aid include:
- Gloves for the helper's hands made of vinyl, latex or nitrile to protect the helper's hands from blood
- Dressings of cloth that can be put on wounds to stop bleeding, much like gauze pads or sanitary napkins
- Bandages of gauze or cloth which hold dressings tightly over wounds; sometimes these are in rolls
- Rolls of tape to hold on dressings and bandages
- Scissors that can be used to cut tape, to open clothing and to make more bandages and dressings
- CPR masks or barriers to make it sanitary for a helper to breathe into someone's mouth, which is one part of CPR
- Blanket made of cloth or Mylar ("space blanket") to cover a sick or hurt person to keep them warm
- A small first aid book which shows how to do first aid and reminds people who have been trained
- Adhesive strips (a small piece of tape with a bit of cloth in the center), special dressings such as moleskin for blisters, and antiseptic creams for small wounds
- Tweezers to remove stingers, splinters and thorns
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