Introduction to First Aid
Every day, there's the potential for an injury, illness, or sudden health emergency to occur in the places where we live, work, learn and play.

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Every day, there's the potential for an injury, illness, or sudden health emergency to occur in the places where we live, work, learn and play. While many of these situations require no more than a Band-Aid, others may be life-threatening. Would you know what to do if someone suddenly became injured or sick?

What is First Aid?

First aid is a term used to describe the immediate treatment of a victim of injury or illness before emergency medical help arrives. While it's undoubtedly true that some sort of immediate medical care has been practiced since the beginning of time, the first aid movement evolved during the mid 19th century, when soldiers were trained to assist fellow troops who had become injured in the field, prior to the arrival of medical help. The American Red Cross was created in 1881 as an organization committed to training and mobilizing workers to provide first aid treatment to victims of disaster or emergencies, as well as during times of war. Today, the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and several other agencies provide first aid courses in locations throughout the nation.

Who Should Know First Aid

First aid instruction is usually required for those in certain professions, such as nurses, teachers, and law enforcement officers. But anyone can learn first aid skills. Knowing what to do when an accident happens or when someone becomes suddenly ill can help to prevent worsening of the situation and promote recovery. More importantly, it can save a life.

Before taking a first aid course, it's a good idea to think about what personal qualities are useful when responding to a possible medical emergency. You need to be able to remain calm in an intense situation, and to assist the victim to remain calm. You must have good observational skills, both to assess what you need to do to assure your own safety during an emergency situation, and to quickly but thoroughly assess the medical situation. It's also good to be a methodical person. You must be able to prioritize the steps you need to take in each situation and then follow through until medical help arrives.

Typical First Aid in Emergency Situations

In general, first aid steps are:

  1. Check the scene for danger to yourself and others. Do not proceed if your safety is at risk. Call for help.
  2. If the scene is safe, evaluate the medical condition of the victim. Do not move the person unless you must do so to protect him from danger.
  3. Summon medical help if appropriate. Ask a nearby person to call 911, or make the call yourself if you're alone.
  4. Treat life-threatening problems. If the person is choking, do the Heimlich maneuver. If bleeding, control with direct pressure. If no breathing or pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and continue until medical help arrives.
  5. Provide first aid care for non life-threatening problems.
  6. Remain with the victim until medical help arrives. Offer reassurance to help the person stay calm.
Written by: Linda Hepler, RN
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH
Published: Jul 20, 2011
Last Updated: Oct 7, 2013
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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