5 Basic First Aid Skills Everybody Should Know

By Dr. Danielle Kelvas | Posted On: August 21, 2018
According to the experts, this is what needs to be in a first aid kit

Emergencies can arise anywhere, anytime, and without prior notice. In such a fast-paced world, tragedies are commonplace, and bystanders are often called into action following an incident. If you are a parent or an adult in charge of kids, you have the added responsibility of being prepared to act in emergencies. Even if you are not dealing with kids, knowing a few first aid skills can enable you to save somebody’s life.

5 First Aid Skills You Should Know

First Aid Skill #1: How to Clean a Wound

Whether it’s a small scrape, burn, or deep cut, the first step to recovery should be to clean the wound to prevent infection. An infected wound can lead to a long list of serious health problems, so it’s important to clean it immediately.

Before touching a wound, clean your hands thoroughly using soap and water. If none is available, hand sanitizer would be an appropriate alternative. This ensures no harmful bacteria are on your hands before treating an open wound.

Next, find a clean cloth, gauze, paper towel, or other absorbent and apply firm pressure directly on the source of bleeding until it stops. If bleeding continues and oozes through the material, add another layer and use more pressure. Once the bleeding has slowed, you want to irrigate (rinse) the wound using copious amounts of water at high pressure. Using a faucet on max output helps to dislodge any dirt or debris embedded in the wound. 

Now that the wound has been rinsed, you can apply an antibiotic cream or ointment to help keep the skin moist, prevent the scab from sticking to the gauze/bandaid, and further reduce the risk of infection. These products can be found over the counter at any local drugstore.

Lastly, you may want to apply a bandage to the wound. Minor scrapes and cuts don’t require bandages, but many wounds do. Things like band-aids don’t only help reduce bleeding and contain blood, but they also act as a barrier to keep out germs.

If the wound is from a dog or cat bite, keep the wound open. Covering them allows anaerobic bacteria to grow. Any animal and human bites require antibiotics and likely an x-ray to ensure that no broken teeth or other debris are lodged deep in the wound.

First Aid Skill #2: How to Stop Severe Bleeding

Unfortunately, dangerous accidents and incidents can occur at any moment. These moments could lead to heavy bleeding or, worse, a tragic death due to blood loss. Profuse bleeding results from the body’s inability to form a clot. Such a situation can result in the body eventually bleeding out.

If a witness to such a situation, bystanders are advised to apply firm pressure directly on the source of the bleeding, not just the entire wound – ideally with a sterile clean cloth. Worst case, you can use your fingers to clamp down large bleeding vessels.

In case of an emergency, T-shirts or other articles of clothing will also work. Make a tourniquet if possible. Secondary measures like raising the wounded limb over the heart also help slow down heavy bleeding. 

Recognizing signs of arterial bleeding is crucial, as someone suffering from arterial blood loss can die within minutes. Arterial wounds pulsate as they bleed, and the blood is usually bright red. In such a situation, applying constant pressure until medical professionals arrive is the only way to possibly save the victim’s life.

First Aid Skill #3: How to Apply CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation)

Cardiac arrest is one of the most common causes of death in America. The heart stops pumping blood, and the victim is brain-dead after approximately four minutes. According to the American Heart Association, over 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside a hospital or healthcare facility each year, highlighting the need for widespread emergency first-aid knowledge and training (1). However, only 46% of public cardiac arrest victims receive CPR from bystanders. Bystander-applied-CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival (2). Here’s how bystanders can apply CPR:

Secure the Area

This first step is critical. Before running into the scene, be sure that the area is safe. If you witness a car accident or natural disaster, running out into the road can endanger your life. 

Check for a Pulse

Use your index and middle fingers to check for a pulse in the neck or wrist. If there is no palpable pulse, and the person isn’t breathing, immediately begin CPR.

Call 911

While you are administering CPR, have someone nearby call 911 if possible. Performing chest compressions is the priority. If you are alone, as quickly as possible, call 911, place the phone on speaker, and continue with chest compressions. Performing CPR is a physically demanding task. You will tire quickly, after about 2 minutes. Preemptively have someone next in line to take over for you so there is no lapse in compressions while switching people. Know that every 2 minutes, people will need to switch.

Chest Compressions

If the cardiac arrest victim has ceased breathing, place the heel of your hand in the middle of the victim’s chest on the sternum, and place the other hand on top – interlacing your fingers. Compress the chest (at least two inches in each compression) in consecutive compressions at a rate of 100-120 a minute. Important things to remember:

  • Let the chest recoil completely after every compression.
  • Snaps and popping sounds are common at the beginning of compressions.  This is the sound of cracking ribs, which lets you know you’re using enough force and pressure to adequately pump the heart. 

Rescue Breathing

After 30 compressions, the victim needs an open airway for breathing. Pinch the victim’s nose closed to prevent oxygen loss, and make a seal over the victim's mouth using your mouth. Tilt the head back to open/expose the neck. This allows for better airflow. Followed by exhaling a big breath inside the victim (big enough to feel the victim's chest rising). If their chest doesn’t rise, you may need to shove their lower jaw forward to open the airway. The procedure is repeated after the victim's chest fall in place. If the victim’s chest does not rise, reposition the victim's head and try again.

Repeat the Two Procedures

Follow rescue breathing with another set of 30 compressions followed by two rescue breaths.

Check for Breathing

After each 30:2 compression: breathing round, quickly check if the victim is breathing. The American Heart Association doesn’t advise everyone to learn rescue breathing. All you have to do is put your hands over the victim’s heart and push to the “Stayin’ Alive” beat by the Bee Gees. Chest compressions are the priority.  You may stop administering CPR once the victim’s breathing resumes. 

First Aid Skill #4: How to Apply the Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich maneuver, though similar to CPR with its life-saving qualities, serves a different purpose altogether. Designed to aid someone choking on a foreign object, this maneuver is an emergency option. The severity of choking can be determined by whether or not the victim can talk. If they can’t talk, cough, or breathe, something is blocking their airway. 

To administer the Heimlich maneuver, stand behind the person with their back facing you. Wrap your arms around the victim to their front and place your fist just above the person’s belly button. Wrap your other hand around your fist. Forcefully and quickly thrust your fist into their abdomen and upwards towards you. This maneuver aims to shove their diaphragm upwards, expelling air out of their lungs to propel the object out of their airway. Keep repeating the procedure until the foreign object is dislodged and the person can breathe. This can take up to around 6-8 thrusts.

A point worth noting is that this technique is only designed to apply to adults, never to babies or small children. Only use this maneuver on a conscious person. If they’re unconscious, perform chest compressions. If the person is obese or pregnant, give chest compressions. (3)

First Aid Skill #5: How to Treat Shock

Severe blood loss may also lead to a drop in blood pressure, called hemorrhagic shock. If the bleeding can’t be stopped, treatment for shock should be considered to save a life. There are multiple checks you need to perform to administer shock treatment effectively:

  • Lay the victim on the back, and raise their feet higher than their head.
  • Assure the victim is breathing; if not, you must administer CPR.
  • Loosen any clothes, belts, etc., that make the victim uncomfortable or constricted. If possible, tie a tourniquet above the source of the bleeding.
  • Ensure the victim’s airway is clear, and the victim is not vomiting.
  • Cover the person ­– ideally, with a blanket – and ensure they are warm.

Emergencies can happen at any time to a loved one or strangers. When put in an emergency, would you rather be a helpless bartender or the one to give someone a chance of survival? Understanding the skills discussed above can save someone’s life. For more comprehensive information on basic first aid skills, it is suggested to take a course created by safety experts who have practiced these skills in the real world.

1.    What is CPR? American Heart Association. Retrieved Nov 30, 2022, from https://cpr.heart.org/en/resources/what-is-cpr.
2.    CPR Facts & Stats. American Heart Association. Retrieved Nov 30, 2022, from https://cpr.heart.org/en/resources/cpr-facts-and-stats.
3.    Choking and the Heimlich Maneuver. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved Nov 30, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/choking-and-the-heimlich-maneuver.

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