The Basics of First Aid

Estimated Reading Time 5 Minutes

Several decades ago, moms might have slathered butter on a burn or tilted your head back if your nose was bleeding. Luckily, we have more accurate information available now to handle life’s bumps and bruises. With the help of St. John’s Ambulance, we’ve provided this information about first aid.

Note: This guide is not intended to replace first aid training or medical help.



  • Skin colour is pink to red
  • Slight swelling
  • Skin is dry
  • Tenderness to severe pain


  • Cool the burn right away by immersing or running cool water over the area.
  • Cover area with clean,wet cloth.
  • Do not remove any clothing or items stuck to wound.
  • When pain has lessened, cover burn with clean, lint-free dressing. Secure with medical tape ensuring that tape does not touch burned area.
  • Monitor patient for shock.



  • Pain and tenderness when touched or moved
  • Loss of function
  • Wound (bone is protruding)
  • Deformity
  • Unnatural movement
  • Shock
  • Crepitus (grating sensation or sound)
  • Swelling or bruising


  • Assess severity of fracture and call for medical help to the scene.
  • Immobilize all fractures before moving casualty to seek medical help.



  • Severe pain with movement of the joint
  • Loss of function
  • Swelling and discolouration


Most injuries to bones, joints and muscles benefit from RICE, which stands for:

  • Rest
  • Immobilize
  • Cold
  • Elevation

Note: Do not put ice directly on skin; always have a layer of cloth between skin and ice and never use ice on an open wound.

NOTE: Without specialized training it’s difficult to determine the degree of a sprain, therefore be cautious and treat the injury as if it were serious.



  • Normal pulse
  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Conscious but withdrawn or disinterested

More severe stages of hypothermia can result in unconsciousness and weaker pulse. If a child appears to be confused, sleepy, irrational, or shivering uncontrollably seek medical attention immediately.


  • Cover exposed skin and keep head warm.
  • Wrap person in windproof fabric or garbage bag if you do not have reflective ‘space blanket’.
  • Move out of cold.
  • Loosen or remove tight clothing.
  • Replace wet clothing with dry clothing. If you do not have dry clothing or you are unable to get indoors press as much water out of clothing as possible and wrap with something windproof.




  • Grabbing the throat
  • Able to speak
  • Eyes show fear
  • Forceful coughing
  • Wheezing and gagging between coughs
  • Reddish face


  • Grabbing the throat
  • Unable to speak
  • Signs of distress – eyes show fear
  • Weak or no coughing
  • High-pitched noise or no noise when trying to breathe
  • Greyish face and bluish lips and ears

CHOKING CHILD (between one and eight years of age)
Ask, ““Are you choking?” If the child can speak, breathe or cough, don’t touch him. Tell him to try to cough up the object. If this partial blockage lasts more than a few minutes, get medical help. If the child cannot cough, use abdominal thrusts to try to remove the blockage.


  • Kneel behind the child so you are at the same height.
  • Find the tops of the child’s hip bones. Then at the same level, join your hands together (they should be below the ribcage, near the belly button).
  • Make a fist with one hand, and place your other hand on top. Press inward and upward with a sudden, forceful thrust. Use only your fist and make certain you are not pressing against the ribs with your forearms.
  • Keep giving thrusts until either the airway is clear or the child becomes unconscious.
  • If the child collapses, lower him to the ground. Call for medical help.
  • Open the mouth and look for any foreign matter, removing with a finger. Open airway and check for breathing for up to 10 seconds. If not breathing, perform artificial respiration until medical attention arrives.

Choking Infant (under one year old)
An infant who suddenly appears to have trouble breathing, even if you haven’t seen her place anything near her mouth, should be attended to immediately. Coughing, gagging and a high-pitched, noisy breathing all indicate breathing difficulty. Whenever you suspect an infant is choking, start first aid immediately.


  • Assess breathing and do scene survey quickly. If baby can cough forcefully don’t interfere. But if they cannot cough up object within a few moments begin first aid.
  • Supporting the baby’s head and neck, turn her over ensuring her head is lower than her body.
  • Give five back blows between the shoulder blades.
  • Turn her face up and give five gentle chest thrusts to create an artificial cough.
  • Keep giving back blows and chest thrusts until object is dislodged.
  • If baby becomes unconscious, immediately call someone to get medical help.



  • Body is hot to the touch
  • Rapid pulse that gradually weakens
  • Noisy breathing
  • Flushed hot and dry skin
  • Complaining of headache, restlessness, dizziness and nausea
  • Often accompanied by vomiting, convulsions and unconsciousness


  • Sunstroke is life threatening.
  • Move person to cool, shaded place.
  • Remove outer clothing and either cover person with wet sheets, place into cool bath, or sponge with cool water (especially armpits, neck and groin areas).
  • Seek immediate medical help.



(if swallowed)

  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

can be absorbed into the body by swallowing (most common), inhaling,
absorbing through skin or being injected (such as a snake bite).  Seek
medical treatment in all cases of suspected poisoning.


  • Assess amount, type and when poison was ingested.
  • Note age and weight of child.
  • Call Poison Control hotline.
  • Do not dilute poison unless advised by Poison Control.
  • If child is conscious, wipe poisonous or corrosive residue from face and rinse or wipe out the mouth.
  • Never induce vomiting except on advice of Poison Control. Many poisons will cause more damage when vomited.
  • Keep the number of Poison Control by all telephones in your home.

NOSEBLEEDS (Not caused by head injury)


  • Place
    the child in sitting position with his head slightly forward. (Leaning
    forward allows the blood to drain from the nose and mouth instead of
    going back down the throat.)
  • Have the child pinch the entire
    fleshy part below the bridge of the nose firmly with his thumb and
    forefinger for about 10 minutes until bleeding stops.
  • Keep the child still and do not allow him to blow his nose for a few hours.
  • If bleeding does not stop with this treatment, or restarts, seek medical attention.


are tears in the skin and underlying tissue. Edges of wounds are
irregular and dirt is likely present. Puncture wounds are open wounds
caused by blunt or pointed object. Seek medical attention if wound is
deep or caused by an animal to prevent complications due to infection.


  • If wound is open, bring edges together, then apply direct pressure.
  • Once bleeding is controlled, wash your hands if possible with soap and water.
  • Do not cough or breathe directly over the wound.
  • Carefully expose the wound and gently wash loose material from the surface.
  • Wash and dry surrounding skin wiping away from the wound.
  • Apply an antibiotic cream on shallow wounds and abrasions.
  • Cover promptly and securely with sterile dressing.

Published June 2010

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