First Aid -- Not Always Easy

Medical Author: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

It would be ideal if we could prevent all injuries from happening in the first place. But in spite of our best efforts, injuries do occur. Injuries are the number one cause of death of children and adolescents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Acting quickly to give effective first aid can reduce the consequences of many injuries. But just exactly what is effective first aid?

First aid is the help and medical assistance that someone gives -- not only to an injured person -- but to a person who is sick. And that injured or sick person could even be you.

But being able to administer effective first aid does not simply involve having a first aid kit on hand. Effective first aid also involves having the appropriate skills as well as good judgment and the ability to keep a clear head when confronted with a medical emergency.

First, you have to decide whether the injury or illness can be treated with what might be called "simple" first aid. Using a sports analogy, you have to decide whether to "run with the ball" or to "punt" to a professional. The heading of "dealing with it yourself" might include the application of a band-aid to a cut or taking an aspirin for a headache.

If the injury or illness is serious, it may require professional medical attention. This requires yet another decision. For example, someone cuts their finger with a kitchen knife. Can the bleeding be controlled with simple pressure and the application of a bandage or does the patient need to be taken to emergency care for possible stitches and a tetanus shot?