First aid is the care that is given to an injured or sick person prior to treatment by medically trained personnel.

First aid can include cleaning minor cuts, scrapes, or scratches; treating a minor burn; applying bandages and dressings; the use of non-prescription medicine; draining blisters; removing debris from the eyes; massage; and drinking fluids to relieve heat stress.

Some self-limiting illnesses or minor injuries may only require first aid intervention, and no further treatment. First aid generally consists of some simple, often life-saving techniques that most people can be trained to perform with minimal equipment.

First aid usually refers to administration of care to a human, although it can also be done on animals. The aim of first aid is to prevent a deterioration of the patient’s situation, to aid recovery, and to preserve life.

Technically, it is not classed as medical treatment and should not be compared to what a trained medical professional might do. First aid is a combination of some simple procedures, plus the application of common sense.

Aims of first aid

The aims of first aid are:

  • To preserve life: this is the main aim of first aid; to save lives. This includes the life of the first aider, the casualty (the victim, the injured/sick person), and bystanders
  • To prevent further harm: the patient must be kept stable and his/her condition must not worsen before medical services arrive. This may include moving the patient out of harm’s way, applying first aid techniques, keeping him/her warm and dry, applying pressure to wounds to stop bleeding, etc.
  • Promote recovery: this may include applying a plaster (bandage) to a small wound; anything that may help in the recovery process.

The following is the first aid treatment for major wounds:

  • Call for medical help.
  • Apply continuous firm, direct pressure to wound, using clean cloth or bandage until bleeding stops.
  • If bleeding soaks through bandage: Do not remove the original bandage. Apply more bandages and pressure.
  • Get medical help to cleanse and close the wound.
  • Monitor and treat for shock if present.

The following is the first aid treatment for minimally bleeding wounds:

  • Clean the wound with soap and clean running tap water.
  • Apply continuous firm, direct pressure to wound until bleeding stops.
  • Once the bleeding stops, apply antibiotic ointment. Cover with dressing.
  • If bleeding soaks through bandage do not remove the original bandage.
  • Apply more bandages and pressure.

First aid skills

ABC (and sometimes D)

The most common term referred to in first aid is ABC, which stands for Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. In fact, the term also is commonly used among emergency health professionals. The D stands for defibrillation.

  • Airway – the first aider needs to make sure the casualty’s airway is clear. Choking, which results from the obstruction of airways, can be fatal
  • Breathing – when the first aider has determined that the airways are not obstructed, he/she must determine the casualty’s adequacy of breathing, and if necessary provide rescue breathing
  • Circulation – if the casualty is not breathing the first aider should go straight for chest compressions and rescue breathing. The chest compressions will provide circulation. The reason is time – checking circulation to a non-breathing casualty consumes time that could be used with chest compressions and rescue breathing. With less serious casualties (those that are breathing), the first aider needs to check the casualty’s pulse
  • Deadly bleeding or Defibrillation – some organizations have this fourth step, while others include this as part of circulation

How to evaluate and maintain the ABC of a patient depends on how well trained the first aider is. As soon as ABC has been secured the first aider can then focus on any additional treatments.

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