first aid

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first aid

first aid, immediate and temporary treatment of a victim of sudden illness or injury while awaiting the arrival of medical aid. Proper early measures may be instrumental in saving life and ensuring a better and more rapid recovery. The avoidance of unnecessary movement and over-excitation of the victim often prevents further injury. Conditions that require immediate attention to avert death include cessation of breathing (asphyxia), severe bleeding, poisoning, strokes, and heart attack. The essentials of first aid treatment also include the correct bandaging of a wound; the application of splints for fractures and dislocations; the effective methods of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and artificial respiration; and treatment of shock, frostbite, fainting, bites and stings, burns, and heat exhaustion.

Asphyxia and Obstruction of Air Passages

Symptoms: Blue discoloration of face, tongue, and lips; gasping; inability to speak; unconsciousness. Treatment: First try the Heimlich maneuver, grasping the victim from behind with hands linked in front and compressing the abdomen just below the ribs. Encourage victim to cough up foreign objects in throat; as a last resort, rap victim between shoulder blades to dislodge object. For asphyxia caused by gas or fumes, remove victim to a clear atmosphere; use artificial respiration.

Bites and Stings

Symptoms: Wound (animal or human bite) or swelling and pain (insect sting). Treatment: For animal and human bites, cleanse wound with soap and water and apply iodine containing antiseptic; submit animal for rabies test. For poisonous snakebite, cooling the site of the wound with ice will slow down absorption of poisons; antivenin treatment is required only for a small number of reptile bites. Prevent exertion and taking of stimulants by victim. For insect stings apply cortisone ointments, soothing lotions, or cool compress. Persons who are allergic to insect stings should carry adrenaline with them at all times. Papain, the main ingredient in “meat tenderizer,” is effective in coral sting injuries.


Symptoms: Redness (first-degree burns), blistering (second-degree burns), charring of skin (third-degree burns). Treatment: Cold water may be applied to first- and second-degree burns. All burns should be covered with sterile non-adherent dressings. Chemical burns should be washed with large quantity of water; vinegar may be added to the water for alkali burns, and sodium bicarbonate may be added to the water in case of acid burns.

Drowning and Near-Drowning

Treatment: Immediate artificial respiration, and CPR. There is controversy over whether or not the Heimlich maneuver should be used in conjunction with CPR in order to dislodge water in the lungs and stomach.


Symptoms: Unconsciousness, paleness, rapid pulse, coldness of the skin, sweating. Treatment: Leave victim lying down, loosen clothing, roll victim to the side and wipe out mouth in the event of vomiting.

Foreign Body in the Eye

Symptoms: Pain, redness, burning, tears. Treatment: Pull down lower lid and remove unembedded object with clean tissue if it lies on the inner surface of lower lid. If object has not been located, pull upper lid forward and down over lower lid. Object can be removed from surface of upper eyelid by turning lid back over a swabstick or similar object and lifting off the foreign body with a clean tissue. Finally, flush the eye with water. If object is suspected to be embedded, apply a dry, protective dressing over eye, and call physician or take patient to hospital emergency room. Keep victim from rubbing the eye. For chemical burns, flood eyes with water.

Fractures and Joint Injuries

Symptoms: Pain or tenderness, deformity of bones, swelling, discoloration. Treatment: Prevent movement of injured parts until splint is applied; treat for shock; if ambulance service is not available, splint entire limb before moving. For sprains, elevate affected part and apply cold compresses. Elastic bandages may be used for immobilization.


Symptoms: Numbness, pale, glossy skin, possible blistering. Treatment: Warm by placing victim indoors, remove covering, bathe frozen part in warm water; do not massage. For cold exposure, give artificial respiration. Placing blankets over a person who has a reduced body core temperature will do no good; heat must be applied to the victim to bring the temperature up to normal. If conscious, give warm liquids by mouth.

Heat Exhaustion

Symptoms: Pale, clammy skin, profuse perspiration, weakness, headache, possibly cramps. Treatment: Rest, cool atmosphere, cool water by mouth if conscious. In case of heat cramp, exert firm pressure on cramped muscle (usually abdomen or legs) to help relieve spasms.


Symptoms: High temperature (as high as 108–112℉/42–44℃), hot dry skin, rapid pulse, possibly unconsciousness. Treatment: Immediately undress victim and sponge with or immerse in cool water or wrap in water-soaked sheets. Use fan or air conditioner.


Symptoms and signs: Information from victim or observer, stains about mouth, presence of poison container, breath odor, pupils contracted to pinpoint size from morphine or narcotics. Treatment: Dilute ingested poison by administering water or milk, administer specific antidote if described on label of commercial product. Do not induce vomiting if poison is strong acid, strong alkali, or petroleum product, or if victim is unconscious or convulsive. Syrup of Ipecac available without prescription at pharmacies may be administered to induce vomiting in other cases. A universal antidote contains Ipecac and activated charcoal; the latter absorbs the poison and the former causes it to be expelled.

Severe Bleeding

Symptoms: External wound. Treatment: Apply pressure over wound with wad of sterile gauze or other clean material. If bleeding continues and no fracture is present, elevate wound. If bleeding still continues, apply pressure to blood vessels leading to area—in arm, press just below armpit; in leg, press against groin where thigh and trunk join. Use a tourniquet (tight band that cuts off circulation) only when it has been decided that the sacrifice of a limb is necessary to save life.


Symptoms: Pale (or bluish) skin (in victim with dark skin examine inside of mouth and nailbeds for bluish coloration), cool skin, weakness, weak pulse; unresponsiveness and dilated pupils in later stages. Treatment: Keep victim lying down and covered enough to prevent loss of body heat. The body position should be adjusted according to the victim's injuries. Victims in shock may improve if the feet are raised 8 to 12 in. (20–30 cm). For electric shock, cut off current or separate victim from contact with electricity by using dry wood, rope, cloth, or rubber; administer CPR.


Treatment: Stop bleeding, cleanse wound with soap and water and cover with sterile or clean bandage.


See Red Cross literature for a complete description of first aid techniques.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

First Aid


prompt preventive and therapeutic measures taken to help an accident victim or a person suddenly taken ill.

First aid includes personal and mutual first aid and first aid provided by medical personnel. It is usually rendered by a nonspecialist: the ill person himself or a witness to the accident. The measures taken largely depend on the nature of the injury or disease. Most often, first aid entails the halting of bleeding and application of bandages to wounds or burns. Closed-chest cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration are employed if clinical death has occurred. Splints, usually improvised, are applied to fractures. If poisoning has occurred, the stomach is washed out by inducing vomiting, and such drugs as aminopyrine, nitroglycerin, and validol are administered if available. The ill person or accident victim is placed in a comfortable position and brought at once to the nearest medical facility.

All medical facilities, including pharmacies, are required to render first aid, as are all medical personnel present at the scene of an accident. First aid in industry and agriculture, on transport facilities, and in public places is rendered at first-aid stations equipped with stretchers, splints, and first-aid kits containing drugs and dressings. The effectiveness of first aid depends largely on training the entire population in the basic methods of first aid. This training, which ought to begin in grade school, should be given in particular to individuals engaged in hazardous occupations, such as transport workers, electricians, machine assemblers, miners, and lumberjacks.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

first aid

a. immediate medical assistance given in an emergency
b. (as modifier): first-aid box
2. (in Barbados) a small shop that sells domestic items after hours
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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