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Basic first aid tips and treatment for common injuries

Young child receiving first aid from carer

Being able to assist a person in need with basic first aid treatment is incredibly important, and might just save a life.

Young child receiving first aid from carer

Whether you’re at home, at work or on the go, accidents happen – which is why having an understanding of basic first aid treatment, along with a well-stocked first aid kit, is essential.

We spoke to Luke Foster, intensive care nurse and nib clinical advisor, to get basic first aid tips for different ailments – and to find out when it’s time to seek medical attention.

Burns

What to do:

For a small or medium burn, run under cool water for 20 minutes. You should never put ice on a burn.

When to visit a GP:

If a small or medium burn is highly painful, blistering, appears deep or has high weeping or discharge, a GP visit is important.

When to visit the hospital:

If it’s a large burn or an airway burn, emergency department attendance is the highest priority.

Related: How to treat a burn

Bug and sea creature bites and stings

What to do:

Bee and wasp stings

  1. 1

    If the stinger is still in the skin (wasps don’t tend to leave their stinger in the skin, though bees do), gently scrape it from the side with a fingernail or credit card so as not to burst the venom sac.

  2. 2

    Once the stinger is removed, wash and dry the area gently and apply a cold pack, if needed, for the pain.

  3. 3

    Watch for signs of anaphylaxis, a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, a swollen tongue or throat, dizziness or collapse, and abdominal pain or vomiting.

Bluebottle stings:

  1. 1

    Place the bluebottle-stung area in hot water (as hot as the patient can comfortably tolerate) for 20 minutes, being careful not to burn them.

  2. 2

    Remove for a short time and repeat until pain eases.

Note: Do not use this on box jellyfish or Irukandji stings, which require vinegar and immediate medical attention.

Related: How much does it cost to call an emergency ambulance in my state?

Mosquito bites:

Mozzie bites are itchy and annoying, but rarely cause a severe allergic reaction.

  1. 1

    Wash the area.

  2. 2

    Apply antiseptic.

  3. 3

    Use cold packs to manage any pain or swelling.

Spider bites:

Spiders fall into one of three categories: big black spiders (such as funnel-web spiders, mouse spiders and any other large, black-looking spider); redback spiders; and all other spiders (which are relatively harmless). Call 000 immediately in the case of a big black spider bite. If a person has been bitten by a big black spider:

  1. 1

    Call triple zero (000) immediately.

  2. 2

    Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage.

  3. 3

    Ensure the patient does not move around.

  4. 4

    Keep the bitten area down low and try to keep them calm until an ambulance arrives.

For all other spider bites (including redbacks):

  1. 1

    Wash the affected area well.

  2. 2

    Apply a cold compress or ice pack (wrapped in a clean cloth) to the bite for 15 minutes to ease pain. Reapply as needed.

When to visit a GP:

If further symptoms develop, pain persists, or there are signs of infection, itchiness for
more than 48 hours, or more than 10cm of skin around the bite becomes red and swollen, visit your GP. In the case of mosquito bites, see your GP if the patient develops a rash or flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, headaches, joint and muscle pain, fatigue and depression).

Related: I have a health concern, what do I do?

When to visit the hospital:

If the patient has difficulty breathing, or swelling of the lips, face or mouth, visit the nearest emergency department immediately. A bite from a big black spider is always considered a medical emergency – call triple zero (000) straight away.

Man giving young boy first aid

Minor cuts and scrapes

What to do:

  1. 1

    Wash the area with lukewarm water.

  2. 2

    Gently pat dry the skin with a clean pad or towel.

  3. 3

    Cover the wound with a simple dressing/tape/bandage.

When to visit a GP:

If the area becomes hot to touch, swollen or red, a GP visit is important.

When to visit the hospital:

If you’re unable to stop the bleeding, emergency department attendance is the highest priority, Luke advises.

If you’re unable to stop the bleeding, emergency department attendance is the highest priority.

Nosebleeds

What to do:

  1. 1

    Help the patient sit with their head slightly forward.

  2. 2

    Pinch the nostril, applying pressure to the soft part of the nostrils below the bridge of the nose for 10 minutes.

  3. 3

    Place a cold cloth or ice pack on the person’s forehead or around their neck.

  4. 4

    After 10 minutes, release pressure from the nostrils and check whether the bleeding has stopped. If not, repeat for a further 10 minutes.

When to visit a GP:

If the bleeding persists, seek medical attention.

When to visit the hospital:

After 20 minutes, emergency department attendance is important, especially for adults on blood-thinning medication, advises Luke.

Splinters

What to do:

  1. 1

    Wash the area with warm soap and water.

  2. 2

    Using sanitised tweezers, remove the splinter at the same angle it was inserted.

  3. 3

    Wash the area with an antiseptic swab and apply a dressing if possible. Gently pat dry the skin with a clean pad or towel.

  4. 4

    Cover the wound with a simple dressing, tape or bandage.

When to visit a GP:

If you’re unable to remove the splinter, says Luke, or the area becomes hot to touch, swollen or red, a GP visit is important.

When to visit the hospital:

Very deep splinters may require removal by a medical professional. Bleeding or infection of a deep puncture wound may also warrant a visit to the ER.

Sunburn

What to do:

  1. 1

    Cool down the affected area with running water, but only for a couple of minutes.

  2. 2

    Moisturise the sunburn, but do not use oil- or petroleum-based moisturisers, says Luke. Speak to a pharmacist about the best ointment, cream or spray to use.

  3. 3

    Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking water and/or electrolyte drinks and stay out of the sun.

When to visit a GP:

If the sunburn is highly painful, blistering or has a lot of weeping or discharge, a GP visit is important.

Related: 7 common sunscreen mistakes

When to visit the hospital:

A hospital emergency room visit may be required if there is a very large area that has been burnt, or the patient is experiencing extensive blistering and pain, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, dizziness or is coming in and out of consciousness.

Sprains

What to do:

First aid for injuries like these involves the acronym RICER (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, Referral).

  1. 1

    Rest: Stop intensive physical activity and movement.

  2. 2

    Ice: 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off, for two hours. Repeat as necessary.

  3. 3

    Compression: Apply a compression bandage to reduce swelling.

  4. 4

    Elevate: Raise the affected limb, preferably above the level of the heart if able.

  5. 5

    Referral: If severe pain is ongoing, or the patient has difficulty putting weight on the affected limb, attend a GP clinic for further review.

When to visit the hospital:

If the patient is unable to put weight on the injured ankle immediately after the injury, visit the emergency room. If the tissue has ruptured, the injury may need surgery to put the torn pieces back together.

What to do in an emergency:

Just as you would in a car accident, in a medical emergency make sure you and anyone you’re with is safe, call 000 for an ambulance or go to a hospital emergency department, and call your insurer (that’s us) as soon as you can. We can step you through your options and help you avoid extra costs. Find out more about what to do in an emergency situation.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. 

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