First Aid: How to Help When Someone Is Sick or Injured

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English.  I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Doug Johnson.  On our program this week, we tell about some emergency medical treatments known commonly as first aid.

First aid is the kind of medical care given to a victim of an accident or sudden injury before trained medial help can arrive.  First aid treatments are generally easy to carry out.  They can be taught to people of all ages.  Learning them is important.  Knowing how to treat someone in an emergency can mean the difference between life and death.

Each year, thousands of people die after eating or drinking poisonous substances.  Experts say most accidental poisonings take place in or near the home.  Most poisonings result from substances commonly used at home.  They include medicines, insect poisons or cleaning liquids.

Signs of poisoning include a sudden feeling of pain or sickness, burns in or near the mouth, or an unusual smell coming from the mouth.  Health experts generally advise poison victims to drink water or milk.  They say, however, to never give liquids to someone who is not awake or to those having a violent reaction to the poison.

Next, seek help from a medical expert.  Save material expelled from the mouth for doctors to examine.  Save the container of the suspected poison to answer questions doctors may have.  The container may also describe the substance that halts the effects of the poison.  Use this substance without delay.

In the past, medical experts told people to get the poison victim to expel all the material from the stomach, or vomit.  The American Academy of Pediatrics suggested the use of a substance called ipecac syrup to do this.  But the experts changed their advice in two thousand three because of a lack of evidence that vomiting helps people who eat or drink a poisonous substance.  They now say do not use ipecac or anything else to get the victim to vomit.

Many emergency medical methods are simple and easy to carry out.  For example, several years ago, a five-year old boy in the American state of Massachusetts was playing with a young friend.  Suddenly the friend stopped breathing.  A piece of candy was stuck in her throat.

The boy remembered a television program where the same thing had happened.  He also remembered what people did on the program to help the person who had stopped breathing.

The boy quickly used the same method on his friend.  The candy flew out of the girl's throat.  She was breathing again.  The young boy had saved his friend's life.

The five-year-old boy used a simple method called the Heimlich maneuver.  An American doctor, Henry Heimlich, developed the method.

The Heimlich maneuver can be done in several ways.  If a choking victim is sitting or standing, you should stand directly behind him or her.  Put your arms around the victim's waist.

Make one of your hands into the shape of a ball, and place it over the top part of the stomach, below the ribs.  Next, place the other hand on top of it and push in and upward sharply.  Repeat the motion until the object is expelled.

A first aid method called cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, can save the victims of heart attacks, drowning or shock.  These people are suffering from what is called cardiac arrest.  Their hearts have stopped beating.

CPR is designed to increase the natural working of a person's heart and lungs.  Expert say it greatly increases the chances that a heart attack victim will survive.

If you see a victim of cardiac arrest, first position the victim's head and neck so that the air passages are open and not blocked.  If the person is not breathing, start a method called mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Restrict the flow of air through the victim's nose as you place your mouth over the victim's mouth.  Blow into the victim's lungs.  The first two such breaths should continue for about one and a half seconds each.

If there is no heartbeat, attempt to restart the victim's heart by pushing down on the person's chest.  Place one hand over the other, and push firmly on the victim's breastbone.  Push down about five centimeters at a rate of about eighty to one hundred times each minute.

If you are working alone, you must do both jobs.  Breathe two times into the victim's mouth for every fifteen times you push down on the chest.

The American Medical Association says that only people trained to perform CPR should do it.  Experts say it is important for people to get this training from local hospitals or the International Red Cross.

In the United States, CPR training includes the use of a protective cloth, or mask, over the mouth.  This helps to prevent disease from spreading during mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Several trainers tell people not to perform mouth-to-mouth on some victims.  They say do it only if you are sure the person is not suffering from AIDS or a disease such as hepatitis or tuberculosis.  They also may say only perform mouth-to-mouth on a stranger if you have a CPR mask with you.

Another emergency treatment for a heart problem is a computer-like device called an automatic external defibrillator.  Defibrillators treat an irregular heartbeat that can cause sudden cardiac death.  These devices usually provide directions for their use, and now can be found in many airports or public places.  Defibrillators should be used only on people more than eight years old.  Most CPR training now includes guidance in the use of the devices.

Medical experts say even the smallest cut in the skin permits bacteria to enter the body.  So they urge correct treatment for all wounds.  If the bleeding is not serious, the wound should be cleaned with soap and water.  Then, cover the wound with a clean cloth, gauze or other kind of material.

If the bleeding does not stop quickly or the wound is large, put pressure directly on it.  Place a clean cloth on the wound and hold it firmly in place.  A hand may be used if a cloth cannot immediately be found.

If the bleeding still does not stop, push the supplying blood vessel against a nearby bone.  This still may not stop all the bleeding.  So, also put pressure directly on the wound.

Two places on each side of the body often are useful in this kind of situation.  These places are called pressure points.  If an arm or hand is bleeding, the pressure point is on the inner part of the upper arm, between the elbow and the shoulder.  Bleeding from a leg wound can be slowed by pressure to the blood vessel at the front, inner part of the upper leg.

If an arm or leg is seriously damaged, a device called a tourniquet may be used to stop the bleeding. It should be used only when bleeding threatens the victim's life.

A tourniquet can be made with any flat material about fifty millimeters wide.  It could be a piece of cloth or a belt.  However, a rope or wire should never be used because they can damage the skin.

Place the material around the arm or leg, between the wound and the body, and tie the ends together.  Place a stick in the tied knot.  Turn the stick slowly until the flow of blood stops.  The stick can be held in place by another piece of cloth.  A tourniquet can be left in place for one to two hours without causing damage.

If the wound is thought to be infected, let the victim rest.  Physical activity can spread the infection.  Treat the wound with a mixture of salt and water until medical help arrives.  Add nine and one half milliliters of salt to each liter of boiled water.

Place a clean cloth in the mixture.  Then, remove the extra water from the cloth and put it on the wound.  Be careful not to burn the skin.

People with no medical education can perform the first aid methods described in this program.  But experts say some training is desirable.  This will help make sure the methods are performed safely and effectively.

Groups such as the Red Cross or the Red Crescent teach First Aid skills in many parts of the world.  To learn more, talk with health experts in your area.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Nancy Steinbach.  Cynthia Kirk was our producer.  I'm Doug Johnson. And I'm Barbara Klein.  Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.