Top Ten first aid tricks you need to know

WEANING is a tricky business. From liquids to solids, from pureeing to chewing, babies have a culinary journey as fraught with danger as an average Saturday night out in George Street.
Could you save a life? Picture: David MoirCould you save a life? Picture: David Moir
Could you save a life? Picture: David Moir

But while getting them to appreciate broccoli and stop spitting out spinach is just part of the trial of learning to eat proper food, every parent can probably recall how they would watch, alert for the moment that the combination of chewing and swallowing could go badly wrong; if the apple wasn’t quite soft enough, if the bread crust was a little too tough, if there was a chance of choking.

A new TV campaign being launched by St John’s Ambulance hopes to ease the fears by making sure parents know basic first aid if their child should get food – or a pen lid, or any small object – stuck in their windpipe. The animated first aid advert, voiced by David Mitchell, David Walliams, Johnny Vegas and Sir John Hurt, sees the actors play objects which could choke a baby.

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It comes as new research shows that 79 per cent of parents don’t know the correct technique to deal with it, despite 58 per cent saying that choking is a major fear. And among those who said they would know what to do, only 29 per cent were actually correct.

Of course, choking is not the only first aid action that most people wish they knew. So here’s the top ten list of first aid techniques which might save a life, or at least stop a visit to the GP.


According to the St John’s Ambulance adverts, the best way to deal with a choking baby is to place it face down on an adult’s thigh, give the back five blows and if that doesn’t work turn the baby over and give it five chest thrusts. Of course if both positions fail, call an ambulance.

Sue Killen, the charity’s chief executive, says: “Knowing what to do in an emergency can be the difference between life and death, especially with choking.”

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It’s a little different with older children though and adults. St John’s Ambulance recommends firstly encouraging the person to cough out whatever is lodged in the throat.

If that doesn’t work, bend them forward and use the heel of your hand to give five sharp blows between their shoulder blades. Check their mouth to see if anything is there, and if so get the person to remove it themselves.

If the back blows don’t work, give them up to five abdominal thrusts: stand behind them, make sure they’re well bent forward, link your hands around them with your lower hand clenched into a fist, between their tummy button and bottom of chest and pull sharply inwards and upwards.

If they still choke, repeat the steps up to three times until they can breath again. If nothing is working dial 999.

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Keep repeating steps to shift whatever is lodged. If the person becomes unconscious, open their airway and check their breathing. If they stop breathing start CPR until the ambulance arrives.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation involves giving someone a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths to keep their heart and circulation going to try to save their life.

If they start breathing normally again, you can stop CPR and put them in the recovery position.


Angie McCappin, a trainer with St Andrew’s First Aid, says if you suspect a heart attack, you should encourage the person to sit down with their back against a wall and their knees up to their chest.

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“If the pain does not ease at all once the patient is sitting down, then phone the emergency services right away. If the pain does ease, then it may be that it is something less serious – heart attack pain does not ease with rest.”

A possible stroke requires quick thinking and action – and FACE. “Look at the face – is it droopy? Arms are next. Ask them to raise them up – is one going up but the other is staying down?

“Communication – can they understand you and can you understand them? If one or all of those checks gives concern, then think ‘emergency’, and call for an ambulance.”


A fall from any height should be treated as a potential head, spinal or neck injury. The first thing to do is to immobilise the patient from behind, holding their head in position so they are not wriggling about – and phone the emergency services.

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And while it’s often obvious if someone has broken a bone sometimes it can be extremely hard to tell. Try and support and stabilise the injury until the ambulance arrives.


Forget about “being brave” by letting a wound heal in dry air, research has shown that letting a wound heal under moist and covered up conditions will make it heal faster and prevent scabs and scarring.

The first aid experts say all you need to do is clean a cut or graze to reduce infection and apply pressure and possibly raise the injury to stop any bleeding.

Clean by rinsing it under running water or using alcohol-free wipes. Pat it dry using a gauze swab and cover it with sterile gauze. If you don’t have these, then use a clean, non-fluffy cloth.

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Raise and support the part of the body that’s injured. If it’s a hand or arm, raise it above the head. If it’s a lower limb, lay them down and raise the cut area above the level of the heart. This will help stop the bleeding.

Remove the gauze covering the wound and apply a sterile dressing.

Blisters also need some TLC. Don’t burst them as that can increase the risk of infection.

Just wash the skin around the blister with clean water, pat the skin dry with a sterile gauze pad or a clean, non-fluffy material.

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And if someone has a bump or bruise, hold frozen peas wrapped in a cloth on to the skin straight after the injury to help it heal and reduce the pain. Do not leave it on for more than ten minutes.

If the injury is painful then help them to lie down and raise the area above their heart, if possible, to help slow the flow of blood to the area and so reduce the swelling.


A major bleed can lead to circulatory shock, warns Angie. “This is where there is a drop of blood pressure caused by a drop in volume of blood circulating in the system. It can cause the body to start to shut down, so it’s important to react quickly.”

Check to see if the patient is very pale and if they are cold and clammy – signs of shock. “Their pulse may be very fast but weak and they may be anxious. Being thirsty or asking for a drink, sick or feeling sick, can be a warning of circulatory shock.”

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Someone suffering internal bleeding in the abdominal area – perhaps following a car accident – is likely to have a distended tummy area which is hard to the touch. “They will be reacting very badly to pain and showing signs of shock,” adds Angie.

“Look for a pattern of bruising on the skin – that is the capillaries bursting under the skin with the pressure of the bleed. There may be marks where the seatbelt has been or, if they have been attacked, a mark on the body.”

Emergency treatment is essential so call an ambulance.


In an asthma attack, the muscles of the air passages in the lungs go into spasm, making the airways narrower and making it difficult to breathe.

People with asthma usually deal with their own attacks by using a blue reliever inhaler. But if someone doesn’t have an inhaler, or the attack is severe, you may need to help.

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Sit them down and ask them to breathe slowly and deeply. Help them use their inhaler. If things don’t improve after a few minutes, get them to take one or two puffs of the inhaler every two minutes until they’ve had ten. If things become worse, dial 999 but keep helping them to take their inhaler.

People who can have an allergic reaction which leads to anaphylaxis also carry medication, but you may be required to help them.

If they are suffering a tightness of the throat and chest, or swelling of the face, eyes or lips, are wheezing or develop a blister-like rash, they are in the midst of an attack.

St Andrew’s First Aid recommends asking if the adult is carrying an Epi-Pen which delivers adrenalin into the body. If they do, give it to the sufferer to allow them to self-administer and call 999.

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If it’s a child who is suffering, then the Epi-Pen should be injected into the outer side of the upper thigh, through their clothing. A sharp, direct jab into the thigh, count to ten, and then remove. Rub the area for a further ten seconds and call for an ambulance.


When treating a minor burn at home the first thing to do, says St John’s Ambulance, is rinse the area with cool, running water for about ten minutes – it’s a myth that butter will soothe a burned area. Ice can also add to the problem, and never burst any blisters.

Check if the skin has stopped burning by looking closely at the water on the surface of the skin after removing it from the running tap. If after a short time there are no particles of water on it, it’s still burning.

Gently remove any constrictions such as rings before the area starts to swell and carefully remove any burnt clothing but do not remove anything sticking to the burn.

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Protect the wound by wrapping in cling film or a clean plastic bag to prevent infection, provide a barrier and prevent swelling. But do not cover burns to the face – continue cooling until medical help arrives.

For chemical burns, check manufacturer’s instructions. If safe to treat with water, put the affected area under cold water for 20 minutes. If it is a severe burn call for an ambulance.


If you get back pain after a bout of gardening, instead of ignoring it, some basic first aid might prevent an expensive trip to the osteopath.

Using a packet of frozen peas and a hot water bottle, place the latter on the area for three minutes. Remove and replace with the peas for one minute and then repeat. Do the whole eight minute sequence each hour until the pain subsides.

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Keep active rather than taking to your bed as that might make things worse. Gentle exercise such as walking can also help, but start on flat ground.

For other sprains and strains, the golden rule is RICE: rest, ice, comfort and elevation. But if there’s any deformity or the person cannot bear weight, then it should be seen to by a medical professional.


Removing a sting can be tricky, but tweezers might not be the best solution as it can cause the venom to go deeper into the skin. Take a bank card, place it behind the sting and scrape it forward to take the sting out. Then place a cold compress over the area. If someone struggles to breathe following a sting, then call 999.

Infection control is vital with bites. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, pat it dry with clean gauze and cover with a sterile wound dressing. If the wound is large or deep call 999. If there’s a risk of rabies they need to get to hospital as fast as possible.


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Poisoning occurs when the body is exposed to a toxic substance in sufficient quantity to cause harm – and it is potentially fatal.

While waiting for medical assistance, you should monitor vital signs and be prepared in case the victim becomes unconscious or if they stop breathing.

Try to find out what the casualty has been in contact with and remove any clothing contaminated by chemicals.

If the person is conscious and their lips or mouth are burning, give sips of milk or water. Never attempt to induce vomiting.


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St Andrew’s First Aid does not administer medicines or lotions when dealing with situations, but home medical kits can be vital.

Among the essentials are various-sized bandages and dressings, sterile wipes and waterproof plasters. “A good thing if you have children is a red cloth,” says Angie. “Everything in a first aid kit tends to be white. If a child has cut themselves, it is less upsetting for them if you clean the area with a red cloth rather than a white one, so then they don’t see the blood.”

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Jamie’s defibrillator legacy

FIRST aid generally doesn’t extend to more than cleaning cuts and applying plasters, but last year in the light of the death of 13-year-old Jamie Skinner, the Evening News launched the Shockingly Easy campaign with his grieving family.

Jamie died while playing football for Tynecastle under-14s at the Saughton Sports Complex after suffering a cardiac arrest. Tragically it later emerged that a defibrillator kept on-site for medical emergencies wasn’t used by staff.

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Since then Jamie’s family has tried to turn the pain into a positive legacy, by ensuring every sports club in Edinburgh has a defibrillator – and that staff have the training to use them properly.

The campaign has been backed by local celebrities and tens of thousands of pounds have been raised to pay for defibrillators to be installed in public buildings and sports facilities.

Every week 12 apparently fit and healthy young people aged 35 and under die from undiagnosed cardiac conditions. The family hopes to take raise awareness nationally of the need for defibrillators, and Lothians MSP Kezia Dugdale has raised the issue with the Scottish Government.

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