Medical care is an extremely complex subject, and this is why we rely on doctors who have spent years studying and practicing their skills. But in emergency situations, ordinary people with limited training can minimize injuries and save lives by applying some basic trauma care techniques. For example, the use of a tourniquet, CPR, or the Heimlich maneuver can greatly increase a patient's odds of survival until medical professionals arrive on the scene.

National stop the bleed day trauma medicine first aid tourniquet 1

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about emergency medical care that can cause bystanders with good intentions to fail to render effective treatment. In some cases, these misconceptions can actually lead to worse injuries or death. BBC Future recently published an article titled “Five Myths About First Aid” and debunked some misconceptions that can lead to ineffective first aid — click here to read the full article. We'll recap and share some additional resources from an American emergency preparedness perspective below.

1. Butter on a burn
We've never heard of this one before, so it may be more common in the UK. We can't imagine too many people still believe in this folk remedy, but the University of Arkansas still took time to address the myth on its web site. Butter belongs on toast, not your wounds (even if your wounds look like burnt toast).

2. CPR chest compressions can cause more harm than good
It's true that forceful chest compressions can lead to bruising and cracked ribs in rare cases. However, it's still better to take that chance than to lose a patient who might otherwise be saved. Even if injuries are caused by the treatment, Good Samaritan laws in the United States and many other countries will protect an individual who provides CPR in an emergency. To be safe, immediately call 911 and let the dispatcher know what's going on.

3. CPR requires compressions and mouth-to-mouth
“Hands-only CPR” is recommended by the American Heart Association for use on teens and adults. Some studies have even suggested that skipping the mouth-to-mouth portion of CPR may improve outcomes in certain cases, although rescue breaths are still required to effectively treat cardiac arrest in children, infants, or patients with respiratory failure.

4. Defibrillator uncertainty
AED stands for Automated External Defibrillator — note the word automated. The device will analyze the patient's condition and apply treatment as needed, so just follow the instructions and let it do the rest. There's no need to hesitate when using a public-access AED unit.

5. Tilting head for a nosebleed
Think about where the blood is going! By tilting a patient's head back, that blood can run down his or her throat. A New York Times article on the subject stated, “Tilting the head back can create complications… it risks choking, and it can cause blood to travel to the stomach, possibly leading to irritation and vomiting.” Instead, it's recommended to lean forward and pinch the nose shut until bleeding ceases.

Thanks to Andy Schrader for the tip about this article.

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