10 Useless or Even Dangerous First Aid Myths
“To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy.”
We all know some remedy myths or old wives tales, but some of them have no effect on conditions, ailments, or illnesses of the human body. If you try any of these myths, you may run the risk of having an adverse reaction or the opposite result of what you would like to happen. So here are ten classic emergency fixes that definitely won’t do in a pinch:
1. Sucking venom from a snakebite.
Cutting the skin of a snakebite victim to suck out the poison may be a classic first-aid technique, but doctors now say it’s useless and even dangerous. “Cutting and sucking, or applying a tourniquet or ice does nothing to help,” says Dr. Robert Barish, an emergency physician at the University of Maryland. The outdated measures “may do more harm than good by delaying prompt medical care, contaminating the wound or by damaging nerves and blood vessels,” Barish says in an article released by the university’s School of Medicine and the Rocky Mountain Poison Center.
“The victim should be moved out of harm’s way and transported to the nearest medical facility as soon as possible,” Barish advises. So the best cure for snakebite: a cell phone and a helicopter.
2. Peeing on a jellyfish sting.
You’re far more likely to suffer a jellyfish sting than a shark bite, so here’s what you need to know:
First, don’t believe the rumors. Peeing on a stung bit of skin won’t do much to relieve suffering, and you’ll suffer some odd stares, too, doctors say.
“Urine has not been scientifically proven to help in jellyfish stings”, said Dr. Paul Auerbach, an emergency physician at Stanford University Hospital and an expert on jellyfish stings.
“Instead, vinegar is the best first treatment,” he said, when treating stings from North American jellyfish.
But the question still lingers, if no vinegar is in sight is urine better than nothing? While studies haven’t proven it, Auerbach admits he’s known a few people who said urine worked for them.
3. Drinking booze to ease a toothache.
“A shot of whiskey is not going to kill the pain of a toothache,” says Charles Wakefield, D.D.S., director of advanced education in general dentistry at Baylor University medical school. Instead of a whiskey on the rocks, just order the rocks: A Canadian study found that rubbing an ice cube on people’s hands killed tooth pain in 50 percent of them. Wrap the cube and rub it on the V-shaped soft spot of your hand, where the bones of your thumb and index finger meet. The cold, rubbing sensation travels on the same pathway to the brain as tooth pain, and by icing your hand, you override the signals from your mouth. When you’re finished, call a dentist. And pour yourself that whiskey.
4. Slathering butter on a burn.
Putting butter, Crisco, or any other kind of grease on a burn can trap heat, cause scarring, and lead to infection. “When you’ve burned yourself, you’ve damaged the integrity of the skin, and butter is not the cleanest thing in the world,” says Ben Wedro, M.D., an emergency-room doctor at the Gundersen Clinic in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Your impulse to douse the burn in ice water is off base as well; the drastic temperature change can cause more pain. Instead, use cool water to soothe and clean the area.
5. Slapping a raw steak on a black eye.
In the movies, you always see someone put a raw steak over their black eye. While it may feel good, the grease from the steak might get into the eye, causing more inflammation.
“The only medical merit this has is if it’s a cold steak,” says Flip Homansky, M.D., who’s seen his share of shiners in his work for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which regulates Las Vegas’s boxing bouts. “The cold will decrease swelling, but there is no enzyme or anything else in a raw steak that will help otherwise.” The fact that the steak, compared with blocks of ice or ice cubes, can be formed to fit over the eye is another benefit, but a cheaper and less bacteria-prone solution is a bag of frozen peas, or crushed ice in a plastic bag wrapped in a towel. And remember, you will still end up with bruising.
6. Apply peroxide to cuts and scrapes and leave open to air.
“I am not a fan of peroxide,” Richard O’Brien, MD, says. Some authorities even think it can kill the body’s cells that are rushing to fend off intruding bacteria and germs trying to enter the wound. O’Brien prefers soap and water – or just clean water – to flush out bits of dirt and irrigate the wound. Even hose water will do.
“We go by clean, treat, and protect,” he says. Clean a cut or scrape, apply antibiotic ointment, and bandage it. “Some people like to let wounds air, but I find they heal faster if they are protected. More importantly, if they are bandaged, the person, especially a child, will protect them better. You can’t imagine how many times people will reinjure the same place! I see it all the time. Bandaging makes it less likely the wound will be reopened.”
Any cut that goes beyond the top layer of skin might need stitches. Generally, the sooner stitches are put in, the lower risk of infection.
7. People may swallow their tongues during a seizure.
It’s commonplace in movies. Someone has a seizure and a passerby sticks something in the patient’s mouth so they don’t swallow their tongue and block their airway. “People can control their own airway,” Richard O’Brien, MD, says. “Don’t stick anything in there.” If the person is outside, let him or her roll around on the ground. It’s OK.
When a person is having a seizure, don’t hold the person down as this can result in injury. Just remove sharp objects – glasses, furniture etc. – from around the person to prevent injury.
8. If you get a bee sting, you must squeeze out the stinger.
Never do this! Squeezing the stinger may allow venom still in the sac to get into your system. “Scrape the stinger out with a credit card,” Richard O’Brien, MD, says. “Even those acrylic nails work, if they are clean.” If the person is getting red or having trouble breathing, dial 911. This can be serious or even fatal.
Another bee sting remedy is putting baking soda on it. This one actually works. Mix baking soda with water to form a thick paste and slap it on ASAP. “The sting is produced by an acid, and if you put baking soda on as soon as you can, it neutralizes that acid,” says Stephen Purcell, D.O., chairman of the division of dermatology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. If you don’t have baking soda, wet the affected area and rub it with an uncoated aspirin; the aspirin will help control swelling, pain, and inflammation.
9. Throw your head back to stop a nosebleed.
“Don’t put your head between your knees or tip your head back,” Richard O’Brien, MD, says. The latter is especially bad because you can breathe the blood into your lungs or get it in your stomach and vomit.
“Press the fleshy part of your nose,” O’Brien says, “and not the part where your glasses sit – lower than that – as if you are trying to stop a bad smell.” Now – and this is the important part – press firmly for a complete 10 minutes by the clock. “People don’t do that, they let up every three seconds to see if it stopped,” he says. Ten minutes! O’Brien says there are also medications and little nostril plugs for people who get frequent nosebleeds.
If a nosebleed lasts for more than 15 minutes, occurs following a serious injury, or is accompanied by severe blood loss, you should call your doctor or go to the emergency room.
10. If you get shin splints, running more will ease them.
Anyone who has run or hiked too much without conditioning has probably experienced shin pain. “This is really called medial tibial stress syndrome,” says Jim Thornton, MA, a certified athletic trainer and head trainer at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Basically the muscle attached to the shinbone is tearing loose. The inflammation – or pain – is a response on the way to healing.
“If you continue to pound the tears,” Thornton tells WebMD, “it will not heal. The key is to have it evaluated because it means your muscles are out of balance. If you run again when the pain lets up, dial back the mileage, because shin splints can end up in a stress fracture.”
So, next time you have softball in the eye, don’t reach for a raw steak! You can make matters worse if you follow wacky, outdated advice and don’t know the correct steps to take.
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