What is Basic First Aid?

red first aid kit

What is basic first aid? Basic first aid is generally the emergency care given to a sick or injured person(s). Basic first aid must not take the place of proper medical or surgical treatment but should consist only of furnishing temporary assistance until competent medical aid is available.

The purposes of basic first aid are (1) to save life, (2) to prevent further injury, and (3) to preserve vitality and resistance to infection.

When administering basic first aid, you have three primary tasks. They are (1) to maintain breathing, (2) to stop bleeding, and (3) to prevent or reduce shock.

Accidents can happen anywhere and at any time. The first response to an accident is the most important, and using emergency first aid basics can improve the victim’s chances of survival and improve recovery. The right response is better than an incorrect quick response. Any response, even if it is wrong, is better than none at all.

Always Dial 911 to get trained emergency personnel on the scene as soon as possible. Until emergency help can arrive, here are some actions that you can take in the various scenarios that may arise:

Unconscious Victims – If the victim is unconscious and not breathing, perform rescue breathing. (Rescue breathing is explained later on in this section.) If the victim’s heart has stopped beating, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you have been properly trained in correct CPR techniques.

Shock – Shock usually occurs after severe injury or emotional distress. The physical signs of shock are cold and clammy skin, pale face, chills, confusion, frequent nausea or vomiting, and shallow breathing. Until emergency help arrives, elevate the victim’s feet about 12 inches unless head, neck, or back is injured or you suspect broken hip or leg bones. Do not raise the victim’s head. Turn the victim on their side if they’re vomiting or bleeding from the mouth. Keep the victim covered to prevent chilling or loss of body heat. Reassure the victim and do not give them anything to eat or drink.

Bleeding – Until emergency help arrives, try to control bleeding. If possible, first put on rubber or latex gloves before touching any blood. If gloves are not available, a clean plastic bag can be used to cover your hands. It is important not to come in contact with blood because of the potential health risks.first aid wrapping womans arm

If finger or hand pressure is inadequate to control bleeding, place a thick pad of clean cloth or a sterile bandage directly over the wound, and hold it in place with a belt, necktie, tape, or cloth strips. Be careful and do not cut off the victim’s circulation. For injuries where it is not practical to use a strap to secure the bandage, such as the groin, back, chest, head and neck, place a bandage directly over the wound and use finger or hand pressure to control the bleeding. If there are no broken bones, raise the bleeding part of the victim’s body higher than the rest of the body. This will slow the blood flow to the injury. If the injury is extensive, the victim may go into shock and should be treated.

As a last resort, a tourniquet can be applied to stop bleeding. There is a risk that you will sacrifice a limb to save the victim’s life. A tourniquet is a band or strip of cloth or other material placed tightly just above the wound, to stop the flow of blood. A tourniquet crushes the tissue and can cause permanent damage to nerves and blood vessels. Once in place, a tourniquet must be left there until a physician removes it. The victim must be taken to medical help as soon as possible.

Burns and Scalds – For minor burns and until medical help arrives, immerse the burned area immediately in cool (not cold) water or apply clean, cool, moist towels. Do not use ice because it may cause further damage to the burned area. Maintain this treatment until the pain stops. Avoid breaking any blisters that may appear. Do not use butter, ointments, lotions or powders on the burn areas. These items can cause infection.

For more severe burns or chemical burns, keep the victim quiet and treat them for shock. Take off jewelry, belts, and tight clothing. Burns can swell quickly. If the clothing sticks to the burned areas, leave the clothing. For exposure to chemicals, flush the skin with plenty of water, and loosely cover the exposed area with a clean bandage. If the burn victim is conscious, can swallow and does not have severe mouth burns, give them plenty of water or other non-alcoholic liquids to drink. Get the victim to a physician or hospital as soon as possible.

Broken Bones – For fractured limbs, take the following precautions until emergency help arrives. Place the injured limb in as natural a position as possible without causing discomfort to the patient. If the patient must be moved to a medical facility, protect the injured limb from further injury by applying splints long enough to extend well past the joints, above and below the fracture. Use firm materials, such as a board, pole, stick, or metal rod, as a splint. Pad the splints with clothing or other soft materials to prevent skin injury. Fasten splints with a bandage or cloth (called cravats) at the break and at points along the splint above and below the break. Use a pressure bandage to control any bleeding.man in leg splint What is Basic First Aid

For very serious fractures involving injuries to the neck or back, observe the following: Do not move the victim without medical supervision, unless absolutely necessary, and then only if proper splints have been applied. If a victim with a suspected neck or back fracture must be moved, keep the back, head and neck in a straight line, preventing them from being twisted or bent during movement. Use a board or stretcher to support the victim, if possible.

Spinal Injuries – Take special care when helping a spinal injury victim. All damage to the spinal cord is permanent, because nerve tissue cannot heal itself. The result of nerve damage is paralysis or death.

Do not move the limbs or body of a victim with a suspected spinal injury, unless the accident scene poses imminent danger of further injury or unless it is necessary to establish breathing. The victim’s body should be stabilized to prevent any movement of the head, neck, or body. Be aware that any movement of a victim with spinal injury may result in paralysis or death.

If the victim must be moved, keep the neck and torso of the body as straight as possible and pull in a direction that keeps the victim’s spine in a straight line. Pull the body from the feet or shoulders (using both feet, or both arms pulled over the shoulders). It is also possible to pull the victim by their clothing. Grab the victim by the collar of their shirt, jacket or coat and support the victim’s head with your forearms while pulling. The clothes drag is preferred because the victim’s head is supported while being moved. Do not pull the body sideways.

When providing patient care, it may be necessary to roll the victim over on to their back to clear an airway or evaluate breathing. When rolling the victim over – the head, neck and torso should be moved together so that no twisting occurs.

Rescue Breathing for an Adult – When breathing movements stop or lips, tongue and fingernails become blue, a person needs immediate help. When in doubt, apply rescue breathing until medical help arrives. Delaying rescue breathing may cost the victim their life. Start immediately. Seconds can count.

The American Red Cross teaches the following 10 steps to assist an adult who has stopped breathing.

1) Does the person respond? Tap or gently shake the victim. Shout, “Are you okay?”

2) Shout, “Help!” Shout for people who can phone for help.

3) Roll the person onto their back by pulling them slowly toward you. Slowly pull towards you until the victim is face up.

4) Open the airway by tilting the head back, and lift the chin. Clear the mouth and throat of any obstructions with your fingers.

5) Check for breathing. Look, listen and feel for breathing for three to five seconds.

6) Give two full breaths. Keep the head tilted back. Pinch the nose shut and seal your lips tight around the victim’s mouth. Give two full breaths for one to one and half seconds each.

7) Check for pulse at the side of the neck. Feel for pulse for five to ten seconds.

8) Phone emergency personnel for help. Have someone call for an ambulance.

9) Continue rescue breathing. Keep the head tilted back, lift the chin and pinch the nose shut. Give one full breath every five seconds. Look, listen and feel for breathing between breaths.

10) Recheck the pulse every minute. Keep the head tilted back and feel for the pulse for five to ten seconds. If the victim has a pulse, but is not breathing, continue rescue breathing.

11) When performing rescue breathing you may want to use a CPR face shield, if available.

For infants and small children, follow the first five steps listed above. On the sixth step, cover the child’s mouth and nose in a tight seal with your mouth, and give two small breaths. Check for pulse and call for help. Continue rescue breathing, giving one small breath every three seconds for an infant and one every four seconds for a child.

Choking – The following steps are advised if the choking victim is unable to speak or cough forcefully.

      For adults and children over one year of age:

1) Ask, “Are you choking?”

2) Shout, “Help!” Shout for help if the victim cannot cough, speak or breathe, is coughing weakly or is making high-pitched wheezing noises.

3) Phone emergency personnel for help. Have someone call for an ambulance.

4) Do abdominal thrusts. Wrap your arms around the victim’s waist. Make a fist. Place the thumb side of the fist on the middle of the victim’s abdomen, just above the navel and well below the lower tip of the breastbone. Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press the fist into the abdomen with a quick upward thrust.

5) Repeat abdominal thrusts until object is coughed up or the victim starts to breathe or cough. If the victim becomes unconscious, lower them to the floor.

6) If the object choking the victim is visible, do a finger sweep. Grasp the tongue and lower jaw and lift the jaw. Slide the finger down inside of the cheek to the base of the tongue. Sweep the object out.

7) Open the airway. Tilt the head back and lift the chin.

8) Give two full breaths. Keep the head tilted back, pinch the nose shut, and seal your lips tight around the victim’s mouth. Give two full breaths for one to one and a half seconds.

9) If the air will not go in, place the heel of one hand against the middle of the victim’s abdomen. Place the other hand on top of the first hand. Press into the abdomen with quick upward thrusts. Give six to ten abdominal thrusts.

10) Repeat steps six through nine until the airway is cleared or the ambulance arrives.

      For infants less than one year old:

1) Place the victim’s head in a downward position, on the rescuer’s forearm, with the head and neck stabilized.

2) With the heel of the rescuer’s hand, administer five rapid back blows between the victim’s shoulder blades. Use enough force to dislodge the obstruction, but not so much that you injure the victim.

3) If the obstruction remains, turn the victim face up and rest on a firm surface.

4) Deliver five rapid thrusts over the breastbone using two fingers.

5) If after dislodging the obstruction, the victim is still not breathing normally, administer mouth to mouth resuscitation as specified for an infant.

6) Repeat the above steps as necessary. If the obstruction cannot be removed, call for medical help immediately.

Refer to the American Red Cross’ Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED Ready Reference for complete instructions on infant and child resuscitation techniques.

To get a better understanding of, What is basic first aid, you can take a class on the subject from your local Red Cross chapter. You can also search for numerous online basic first aid courses, some of which are free.

I hope we’ve answered the question of – What is basic first aid. Let us know what you think.


The first aid related information in this blog post is meant for basic informational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as medical advice, substitute for a doctor’s expert care or to be used for diagnosing or treating a disease. Readers/Users of this blog post, on emergency first aid basics, are advised to consult with a physician or certified emergency first aid professional before performing, or using any of the techniques and information referenced in this blog post.

If you want to learn to effectively help and stay safe during an emergency enroll in a first aid and / or CPR course with one of the top rated professional training providers, such as the American Red Cross.

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