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First aid is the assistance given to an injured or sick person in need of urgent medical assistance. First aid applies to a broad range of medical situations and consists both of specific knowledge and skills (for example, what to do for each type of injury or illness) and the ability to assess a situation and make appropriate decisions (such as when to call for emergency medical assistance).
First Aid Kit
Preparedness is a key element of first aid. While every home, auto, and boat should be equipped with a basic emergency kit that includes first aid supplies and a first aid manual, special circumstances may necessitate more advanced or specific degrees of preparation for an emergency. For example, residents of certain geographic areas where natural disasters (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, floods, landslides, or tsunamis) may occur should prepare for emergencies by assembling disaster preparedness kits such as earthquake kits, flood kits, andevacuation kits.
Travelers should also prepare to administer first aid in the region they plan to visit. In many developed countries, this may amount to packing a standard first aid kit and manual with your belongings. Medicines to prevent motion sickness and advanced awareness about the management of traveler's diarrhea are also helpful to travelers. In the developing world or in remote regions, a travel medicine kit should include medicines and supplies that may not be available for purchase as well as any specific products (such as insect repellant to prevent mosquito and tick bites) needed for your destination. It's also important for travelers in foreign countries to learn how to access emergency services by telephone.
CPR and First Aid Certification
Regardless of your level of skill or degree of first aid training, if you find yourself in a true medical emergency, always call 911 for emergency medical assistance immediately. Likewise, if you are involved in any medical situation that is beyond your personal abilities to provide first aid, you should never hesitate to summon emergency medical assistance right away.
Quick Guide8 First Aid Kit Essentials for Scrapes, Cuts, Bug Bites, and More in Pictures
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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Top First Aid Related Articles
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. Appendicitis often causes sings and symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain in the lower right quadrant
- Abdominal tenderness
- Loss of appetite
Delay in surgery can result in appendix rupture with potentially serious complications.
Insect Sting PicturesAlthough many different types of insects in the United States are able to inflict a poisonous bite or sting (meaning they are venomous), the insects most likely to cause medical problems are bees, wasps, and ants. See a picture of Bee, Wasp, Yellow Jacket Stings and learn more about the health topic.
BurnsBurn types are based on their severity: first-degree burns, second-degree burns, and third-degree burns. First-degree burns are similar to a painful sunburn. The damage is more severe with second-degree burns, leading to blistering and more intense pain. The skin turns white and loses sensation with third degree burns. Burn treatment depends upon the burn location, total burn area, and intensity of the burn.
Cuts, Scrapes and Puncture WoundsCuts, scrapes, and puncture wounds are common, and most people will experience one of these in their lifetime. Evaluating the injury, and thoroughly cleaning the injury is important. Some injuries should be evaluated by a doctor, and a tetanus shot may be necessary. Treatment will depend upon the severity of the injury.
DehydrationDehydration is the excessive loss of body water. There are a number of causes of dehydration including heat exposure, prolonged vigorous exercise, and some diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- constipation, and
- bad breath.
Dehydration SlideshowDo you know the signs of dehydration? Dehydration can cause medical complications. Learn the causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention tips to avoid dehydration.
First Aid for SeizuresSome seizures are caused by:
- brain diseases,
- genetic conditions, or
- other illnesses or disorders that can be diagnosed (symptomatic seizures).
- foods or medications,
- lack of sleep,
- dehydration, or
- sensitivity to light.
First Aid BandagingDo you know which type of bandage to use with a scrape, poke, blister or burn? Learn the best way to cover or wrap your injury, and get tips on when it is time to see a doctor.
First Aid EssentialsAre you always prepared for a first aid crisis? See which basic first aid items to pack to treat minor scrapes, cuts, and stings when you're on the go.
FrostbiteThere are two categories to cold weather-related injuries. 1) no freezing of body tissue (trench foot and chilblains), and 2) freezing of body tissues (frostbite). Chilblains in general, will not need medical attention (unless there is infection). Trench foot and frostbite, however, require medical attention. Symptoms of frostbite include pain, burning, numbness, and eventually a complete loss of sensation in the affected body part. The young, elderly, and patients with certain medical conditions (diabetes, hypothyroidism, circulatory problems, and psychiatric illnesses), are more susceptible to cold weather-related injuries. People who abuse alcohol and illicit drug user are also at risk for cold weather-related injuries.
Heat Rash SlideshowDo you know what heat rash looks like? Heat rash (also called prickly heat) develops when the skin sweat ducts become blocked. Red bumps, discomfort, and itching are common heat rash symptoms.
Insect Sting AllergiesThe majority of stinging insects in the United States are from bees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and fire ants. Severity of reactions to stings varies greatly. Avoidance and prompt treatment are essential. In selected cases, allergy injection therapy is highly effective.
Poison Ivy, Oak, and SumacPoison ivy, oak, and sumac contain a substance called urushiol, which causes a rash on people who come in contact with them. Symptoms and signs include a red, swollen, itchy, blistering, bumpy rash. Treatment involves rinsing the exposed area with water, taking antihistamines and over-the-counter pain medications, using topical treatments such as calamine lotion, and applying cool compresses.
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful rash caused by the varicella zoster virus. Other shingles symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, and body aches. Treatment focuses on pain management and shortening the duration of the illness with antiviral medications.
StitchesStitches or sutures are used to close skin wounds. After the wound is examined and cleaned, the health-care provider assesses the wound to decide how to repair the wound. Dissolvable stitches may be used if deep sutures are necessary. Nylon and polypropylene are the main choices of suture material. The length of time stitches must remain in place depends upon the location of the wound and how much stress is placed on the wound.
Trauma/First Aid QuizWhat should be in your first-aid kit? Take this quiz to understand trauma and learn the truth about how to administer first aid.