The Do’s & Don’t’s of First Aid

One thing that I have learned in my years of being in the medical field is that there are plenty of myths and old wive’s tales surrounding almost every aspect of health. First aid is no different.

We all know someone who has advice for when we get a burn or a cut or a bite, but is their advice correct? Of course they mean well, but are they just passing on a wive’s tale from generations before them?

We also know people who have taken their own advice and turned out okay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will, too. For instance, just because your friend super-glued his own laceration and didn’t get a major infection doesn’t mean that is the best way to take care of a cut. For as many people who get by with that there are more who end up hurting themselves further.

In an attempt to debunk some of these, here is what you should and shouldn’t do if you find yourself in a situation in which first aid is needed:


I have heard over and over again from patients and friends alike that you should do one thing if you sustain a burn: put butter on it! “It will draw out the heat” they say. But is that really what is best? No. Not, like, at all. Don’t do it. Just how putting butter on burnt toast doesn’t make the toast less burnt, it won’t make your skin less burnt, either.

So, what should you do?

First aid treatment depends upon the type of burn. Your first step should be to remove whatever it is that is burning you (obviously). Because the area around the burn will quickly swell, you should then remove any restrictive clothing or jewelry around it.

For first-and-second degree burns, put the burned area under cool running water. Not cold, but cool. Do not use ice or attempt to pop any blisters, as ice will affect your normal body temperature and popping the blister will remove the protective covering that your body has created and allow bacteria into the wound. Cover the area with a sterile dressing and take Tylenol or an over the counter analgesic for pain.

Do not apply any ointment or anything else (especially butter!), as this can cause infection. Change the dressing frequently until the skin heals.

If the burn does not start to heal or if you notice signs of infection (increased redness or pain, oozing from the wound, etc.) contact a doctor right away.

If you sustain a third-degree burn, call 911 immediately and, if possible, keep the burned area above your heart. Again, do not put anything on it – just try to keep it clean and away from any contaminants. Generally third degree burns are so severe that there will be nerve damage, meaning you may not feel pain. Don’t let this fool you into thinking it isn’t “that bad” because it’s about as bad as they get.


I’ll tell you a story. One day my husband came home from work with duct tape around his thumb. I asked him what happened and he informed me that he had sustained a cut at work and put the duct tape on to keep it from bleeding all over the place. After a proper scolding, I removed the tape to find a thumb that was not only injured, but completely white from loss of circulation. I was able to treat him at home, but that is only because the cut wasn’t very severe and I took care of it before infection set in.

So, what should you do?

Most cuts do not require emergency medical care, but the first aid is the same for all cuts. Make sure to wash your hands before handling the area to avoid infection. Clean the cut and stop the bleeding by covering it and, if possible, elevating the affected area above your heart. Keep it covered and use antibiotic ointment to avoid infection. Keep the wound clean and dry as it heals. As with burns, if the wound does not heal or becomes infected, go to a doctor.

If the cut is deep, jagged or the bleeding cannot be stopped, clean it and place a bandage on it until you can get to an emergency room or urgent care center. Remember, the quicker you get stitches or medical care, the less chance of infection and the less likelihood of major scarring.

Broken Bones/Dislocations

These will always require a trip to the emergency room. That is, if you want to avoid deformity and the possibility of unnecessary surgery. Do not try to set the injury yourself because you will just do more damage and make your life even harder.

So, What Should You Do?

If the bone has come through the skin, stop the bleeding. Immobilize the affected area and apply an ice pack (if available) to reduce swelling and help with pain. Do not apply ice directly to the area, cover it with cloth of some sort before placing it on your skin.

Then, get yourself to an emergency room and let the professionals sort it out.

Venomous Snake Bites

We all know that you’re supposed to cut the bite, apply a tourniquet and then suck the venom out from a snakebite, right? Well, what if I told you that doing so will do absolutely no good and may even make things worse? Not only will it not help the victim, but it may contaminate the wound and/or damage blood vessels around it.

So, what should you do?

If you or someone else has been bitten by a snake, the first step is to get away from the snake (again, obviously) and then call 911. The victim should then lie down and try to keep the bite below the heart, staying as calm as possible so as to avoid further spreading of the venom. Remove any clothing, jewelry or shoes from around the bite, as the area will start to swell rather quickly.

Once you are in the emergency room, tell the staff what type of snake it was (or if you aren’t sure, describe it to them) so that they can get the correct antivenom.

So, now you know that when your buddy gets bit in the groin, you don’t have to put your mouth on it. Great, right?