First Aid Myths: Ignore These Summer 'Cures'
Experts share first aid tips while debunking some common home remedies.
Reviewed By Michael Smith
Softball in the eye? Don't reach for a raw steak!
Summer, with its whirl of sports and outdoor activities, can produce an appalling number of minor injuries, but you can make matters worse if you follow wacky, outdated advice and don't know the correct steps to take.
Myth: Put Butter on a Burn
"Ludicrous!" Richard O'Brien, MD, an emergency medicine physician at the Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton, Pa., tells WebMD. Grandma's tried-and-true remedy of slapping butter on a burn is just adding unclean, foreign proteins.
Second- and third-degree burns -- when the skin is blistering or white and without feeling -- need to be treated by a doctor. First-degree burns -- when the skin is red but feeling is still normal -- can be treated at home.
"You need to cool a minor burn," O'Brien advises. "Run cold water on the burned area for at least 10 minutes; then apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment." Put a cloth over that, he says, and then you can apply another cold compress for pain control. A bag of frozen veggies works nicely. Never put ice directly on the skin.
Tip Sheet: What to Keep in Your First Aid Kit
Myth: Throw Your Head Back to Stop a Nosebleed
"Don't put your head between your knees or tip your head back," O'Brien 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.
Myth: If Something Gets Stuck in Your Flesh, Pulling It Out Is OK
This may be OK, O'Brien says, if the object is small, visible, and near the surface. But this probably does not apply to errant fishhooks. "You can cut the end of those and pull them out, but it's hard to do," he says. "I have trouble sometimes with a local anesthetic and a scalpel. An embedded fish hook may earn you a trip to the emergency department."
If you do remove an object, like a thorn, wash the wound well with soap and water, dry it, and bandage. A puncture wound -- especially a rusty nail -- requires a tetanus shot if you have not had one in the last five years.
Incidentally, the embedded object may be holding in the blood. When in doubt, see your doctor.
Myth: For Cuts and Scrapes, Apply Peroxide and Leave Open to the Air
"I am not a fan of peroxide," O'Brien 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.
Myth: 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.