At any moment, you or someone around you could experience an injury or illness. Using basic first aid, you may be able to stop a minor mishap from getting worse. In the case of a serious medical emergency, you may even save a life.
That’s why it’s so important to learn basic first aid skills. To build on the information you learn here, considering taking a first aid course. Many organizations offer first aid training, including the American Red Cross and St. John Ambulance.
Definition of first aid
When you provide basic medical care to someone experiencing a sudden injury or illness, it’s known as first aid.
In some cases, first aid consists of the initial support provided to someone in the middle of a medical emergency. This support might help them survive until professional help arrives.
In other cases, first aid consists of the care provided to someone with a minor injury. For example, first aid is often all that’s needed to treat minor burns, cuts, and insect stings.
3 steps for emergency situations
If you encounter an emergency situation, follow these three basic steps:
Check the scene for danger
Look for anything that might be dangerous, like signs of fire, falling debris, or violent people. If your safety is at risk, remove yourself from the area and call for help.If the scene is safe, assess the condition of the sick or injured person. Don’t move them unless you must do so to protect them from danger.
Call for medical help, if needed
If you suspect the sick or injured person needs emergency medical care, tell a nearby person to call 911 or the local number for emergency medical services. If you’re alone, make the call yourself.
If you can do so safely, remain with the sick or injured person until professional help arrives. Cover them with a warm blanket, comfort them, and try to keep them calm. If you have basic first aid skills, try to treat any potentially life-threatening injuries they have.
Remove yourself from danger if at any point in the situation you think your safety might be at risk.
First aid bandage
In many cases, you can use an adhesive bandage to cover minor cuts, scrapes, or burns. To cover and protect larger wounds, you might need to apply a clean gauze pad or roller bandage.
To apply a roller bandage to a wound, follow these steps:
Hold the injured area steady.
Gently but firmly wrap the bandage around the injured limb or body part, covering the wound.
Fasten the bandage with sticky tape or safety pins.
The bandage should be wrapped firmly enough to stay put, but not so tightly that it cuts off blood flow.
To check the circulation in a bandaged limb, pinch one of the person’s fingernails or toenails until the color drains from the nail. If color doesn’t return within two seconds of letting go, the bandage is too tight and needs to be adjusted.
First aid for burns
If you suspect that someone has a third-degree burn, call 911. Seek professional medical care for any burns that:
cover a large area of skin
are located on the person’s face, groin, buttocks, hands, or feet
have been caused by contact with chemicals or electricity
To treat a minor burn, run cool water over the affected area for up to 15 minutes. If that’s not possible, apply a cool compress to the area instead. Avoid applying ice to burned tissue. It can cause more damage.
Over-the-counter pain relievers can help relieve pain. Applying lidocaine or an aloe vera gel or cream can also reduce discomfort from minor burns.
First aid CPR
If you see someone collapse or find someone unconscious, call 911. If the area around the unconscious person seems safe, approach them and begin CPR.
Even if you don’t have formal training, you can use hands-only CPR to help keep someone alive until professional help arrives.
Here’s how to treat an adult with hands-only CPR:
Place both hands on the center of their chest, with one hand on top of the other.
Press straight down to compress their chest repeatedly, at a rate of about 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
Compressing the chest to the beat of “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees or “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé can help you count at the correct rate.
Continue performing chest compressions until professional help arrives.
Learn how to treat an infant or child with CPR and how to combine chest compressions with rescue breathing.