10 First Aid Facts you believe that simply aren’t true (2020)


As a First Aid Instructor, I deliver courses of different levels to clients and businesses all over the North East.

Most people come to my sessions bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to learn. And with their enthusiasm, my learners usually come with ‘facts’ that they think they know about first aid. When I teach them that what they ‘know’ isn’t true, they’re always very surprised.

I hate to admit it, some really do make me laugh. But since so many people believe these ‘tricks’ (probably you included) I thought I’d share these with you to debunk these myths around first aid.

Let’s get started.

    1. Put a wooden spoon in the mouth of someone having a seizure/fit
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      This is one of the most common myths people believe about first aid. “But it’s so they don’t swallow their tongue!” I hear you say.Well, it’s actually very unlikely you’d swallow your tongue in any situation. Technically, the tongue could relax and block the airway, but this is extremely rare.In fact, most epileptic seizures stop after a short period of time. Forcing an object into the mouth of someone who is having a seizure would only add more stress to the situation.

 2. Put butter on a burn
I swear my mum did this to me as a child.
“But it keeps the skin moist and stops it drying out,” people tell me.
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Well, if a person suffers a burn their skin has already dried out. All the butter will do is add to the heat retention (making it worse). It won’t cool it, although it may initially feel like it.So put away and Lurpak and head straight to the tap instead! The best thing to do is to use cool running water for at least ten minutes.

    1. If someone swallows a harmful substance, make them vomit
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      This is another myth that’s mentioned often.If someone isn’t vomiting, don’t encourage it. Most toxic or poisonous substances cause burns that swell the airway. By encouraging vomiting, all you’re doing is further damaging their airway as the vomit travels back up.As a First Aid Instructor, I teach my clients that airway management is the number one priority. Second to none.

      And look, depending on what the substance is, how strong it is and the quantity consumed, they may vomit naturally, which is fine. Just don’t go shoving a toothbrush down their neck, okay?

4. Tilt your head back if you have a nosebleed

I bet this is something else your parents made you do as a child. Maybe it was to save their carpet? Or your new outfit? Who knows?Instead of running down your face and onto the floor, the blood is now running down your throat (which may make you vomit).If you have a nosebleed, it’s better to sit up and lean forward with something in your hand to catch the blood (don’t worry everyone, your carpet is still safe). 

Now you can see when it stops, the colour of the blood and how much blood there is; all useful clues to determine how bad it may be and if you need to call for help.

5. Don’t roll a person into the recovery position if they have a spinal injury

This is always a good topic of conversation on my First Aid courses. And it’s not 100% wrong.When someone is not responding and unconscious but is breathing, there’s a high chance that vomit will stick in their throat and kill them.As I said earlier, the airway is the number one priority. If you aren’t breathing, you’ve got no chance. So if you think someone has a spinal injury and is breathing but not responsive, roll them over (not into the recovery position) but into a spinal roll which will clear the airway and reduce any damage to the spine.

  1. Don’t do rescue breaths when administering CPR
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    When I ask my learners why you shouldn’t, they often answer “because Vinnie Jones said,” (a reference from a Government advert when Vinnie Jones taught the nation Chest Compression only CPR).If CPR is needed, then you can perform rescue breaths if you are willing and know how to.  There are no laws stopping you from doing so. Currently, official guidelines are to include the breaths if it is safe.  A face shield to cover the mouth would help.Remember, when administering any kind of first aid your own safety is just as important as the injured person. So it is up to you to decide if mouth-to-mouth is safe. Because of COVID-19 I currently advise against this on my courses.

    1. Sit down and put your head between your legs if you feel faint
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      To be honest, this isn’t a bad thing to do but it’s likely you’re a little dizzy and what if you fall over and injure yourself.The best thing to do is to lie down and slightly raise your legs. Now there’s nowhere to fall and the dizziness should subside quicker.

8. Breathe into a paper bag if you haven’t got your asthma inhaler
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I haven’t heard this one in a little while, but it used to come up a lot during Paediatric First Aid courses.If you have an asthma attack, you will be having trouble breathing. This is caused by the bronchioles in your lungs narrowing, meaning your body doesn’t get as much oxygen as you need.So now imagine breathing in and out of a paper bag that is slowly building up with carbon dioxide. How is this going to help you? It will only make it worse. 

In fact, the effects of the bag are purely psychological, designed to calm you down. The bag works as a visual aid, so the best thing you can do is try to breathe normally or mimic the breathing of someone else to calm down and return to normal. This way you get more oxygen.


9. Keep your casualty awake if they have suffered a head injury
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Another one I hear about on Paediatric First Aid courses.  Certain head injuries can make people feel tired or heavy in the head, but let’s face it – encouraging the person not to sleep isn’t going to solve their injury.Again, though, this isn’t completely incorrect since the worry with a sleeping casualty who has a head injury is that we can’t clearly see if their breathing is good (unless you constantly check on them).The best thing to do is to call 999 or 111 and explain what has happened.


 10. You will get sued if you help a stranger and make it worse
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I’ve saved the most common myth to last.And look, technically it is true. However, it is highly unlikely to happen in reality.As a first aider, you are not expected to act in the same way a professional would in first aid situations (such as a paramedic or doctor). And there is no law in the UK that states you must assist. 

While it is tempting to say “it’s safer to do nothing” in case of legal action, as I always point out during training sessions, imagine how you’d feel afterward if something bad happened and you could help, but you didn’t.

Keep Calm and Remember Your Training.

If someone falls ill or has an accident and needs your help, you may freeze with panic. It’s common and sometimes can’t be helped, but if you’ve been trained in first aid, then you can literally save a life. Surely what we should do all we can to help? Isn’t that the moral and good thing to do, after all?

Anyone can call 999 and stay with a casualty until help arrives. But if you’re first aid trained, you can make the difference between life and death. And this is at the centre of everything I teach. As a first aider, you should do everything you can (within reason) to help, and the right training will equip you for this

So how many of the myths did you think were true in the 10 First Aid Facts you believe that simply aren’t true?