The seven first aid myths paramedics are keen to debunk once and for all

St John Ambulance is aiming to debunk many of the first aid myths in the community.
St John Ambulance is aiming to debunk many of the first aid myths in the community.  Photo: St John Ambulance

Pouring urine on a jellyfish sting. Sucking the venom out of a snake bite.

They are just some of the myths which have been circulating for years all over the world as effective first aid treatments.

But St John Ambulance is keen to debunk every single one of them, once and for all.

SJA's top first aid trainer, Rondel Dancer, says in actual fact, such myths are doing more harm than good.

Some sound silly, laughable, but others are just downright dangerous, Ms Dancer says.

In her 25 years as a first aid educator Ms Dancer said she had "heard it all" when it comes to first aid myths and old wives' tales. 

Rondel Dancer is St John Ambulance WA’s First Aid Training Team Leader.

Rondel Dancer is the First Aid Training Team Leader for St John Ambulance WA. Photo: supplied

Below are seven myths SJA wants to eradicate from people's thinking for good. It could save your or someone else's life.

1. Urinating on a jellyfish sting:

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This is one of the more common first aid myths out there. It even appeared on an episode Friends back in 1997.

The theory is that the acidity of urine can blunt the stinging sensation caused when you come into contact with a jellyfish's tentacles. This is true to a certain extent but not all urine is acidic enough to make a difference. Apart from being a bit gross, this is more likely to cause greater pain by triggering stinging cells that have been transferred from the tentacles to the patient's body.

Rondel's advice:

Be sure to rinse the area with salt water, not freshwater. Freshwater will prolong the pain by setting off those stinging cells. Once the tentacle has been gently washed off, apply either an ice or heat pack to reduce inflammation. Vinegar is another handy treatment option, but only for tropical jellyfish stings. If you're unlucky enough to be stung by a Box Jellyfish seek medical assistance asap as they are among the most deadly animals on the planet!

Box jellyfish were responsible for three fatalities between 2000 and 2013.

Box jellyfish were responsible for three fatalities between 2000 and 2013. Photo: National Geographic

2. Sucking the venom out of a snake bite:

Not only is this ineffective, it's also downright dangerous. A common scene from old western and cowboy movies, sucking the venom from a snakebite actually damages tissue around the bite and can quicken the spread of venom around the patient's body. Once bitten, a snake's venom will spread quickly to a person's lymphatic system and it's an exercise in futility to attempt to suck it out. 

Rondel's advice:

Time is the critical factor when it comes to treating snake bites. The first thing you should do is call an ambulance. While the ambulance is en route keep the patient still and calm. Lay them flat and wrap a bandage around the wound before applying a pressure bandage, starting from the extremities of the limb, wrapping towards the body.

National Zoo and Aquarium Kernel, American Corn Snake, Pantherophis guttatus Photo by Rohan Thomson Please contact The Canberra Times - Scott Hannaford or Karleen Minney before use. 62802211

Sucking the venom from a snakebite is not only a myth, its also dangerous. Photo: Rohan Thomson

3. Scraping off a bee sting:

While technically, this one isn't exactly a myth because it is true that a bee sting can be removed by scraping it off the skin. However, the most important factor when treating bee stings is time. A bee sting will continue pumping venom into the skin after the bee has flown away, meaning the longer it's in there, the more pain someone will experience.

Rondel's advice:

Get that stinger out as quickly as possible. A bee sting won't penetrate deeply into the skin and can be brushed, flicked, scraped or grabbed. Just don't attempt to squeeze it out as this will release venom faster, cause more pain, and probably be ineffective.

4. Putting butter on burns:

German Surgeon General Friedrich Von Esmarch – the founder of modern first aid - missed the mark when he recommended applying butter, oil or grease to burns. Von Esmarch's theory was that butter helped seal burns from air and prevent infection. But as anyone who's spent time in the kitchen knows, oil is a great conductor of heat and far from an ideal treatment option for a burn victim. It also increases the risk of infection and is better left in the fridge.

Rondel's advice:

Regardless of the size or severity of the burn the most important thing to do is immediately place the affected area under cool, gently running water. This not only soothes the burn, but also helps reduce scarring and can limit the amount of time a patient may need to spend in hospital. Keep the water running for at least 20 minutes and if possible, remove any clothing or coverings from the wound (unless melted to the skin). Remember not to place ice or frozen packs on the affected area as these are too cold and can often cause burns of their own. Also avoid creams or bandages and seek medical attention if necessary. And remember to keep the butter and oil in the pantry where it belongs.

5. Warming up a hypothermia victim by giving them alcohol:

Many people will tell you they feel warmer after having a glass or two of their favourite tipple. Alcohol does make you "feel" warmer as heat rushes to dilated blood vessels close to the skin's surface. However, this has the effect of actually dropping your core temperature which can be very dangerous, especially for someone suffering hypothermia.

Rondel's advice:

Hypothermia can set in when body temperature falls below 35 degrees and common symptoms include severe shivering, slurred speech, and a slowed heart rate. People experiencing or at risk of hypothermia should remove any wet or damp clothes if possible, wrap themselves in a blanket and cover their heads with a beanie. A warm drink will also help, just make sure to steer clear of beer and spirits.

6. Using raw meat on a black eye: 

This is yet another myth that has its roots in Hollywood and is much more fiction than fact. Because meat is cold, some believe that it helps reduce swelling and inflammation. In reality, you risk infection by transferring bacteria from the meat into your eye.

Rondel's advice:

Keep steak in the fridge and use a cold pack instead. Make sure it's wrapped in a cloth or a towel to avoid potential frost bite and remember to always keep ice away from your eye as it can cause damage. If you experience blurred vision or other eyesight problems, seek medical attention as soon as possible. A pack of frozen peas can however be a good substitute though if you don't have an icepack or compress.

raw meat  steak  generic istock  red meat

Raw meat on a black eye is a big no no.

7. Rubbing your eye when you get a foreign substance in it:

Rubbing your eyes causes tears, so you could be forgiven for thinking it's a good way to flush out a foreign substance. However, rubbing your eye can actually cause damage by scratching the eyeball, particularly if the substance is something coarse like sand.

Rondel's advice:

Try rinsing your eye with cold water instead. This is likely to be more effective and there's less risk of permanent injury. Many first aid kits come with eye flush solution which is also a good option. If this doesn't work, cover the eye and seek medical assistance.

Do you have your own medical or first aid myth? Tell us about it in the comments section and we will put it to St John Ambulance to see if it is fact or fiction.

St John Ambulance first aid Courses can be booked online at http://www.stjohnambulance.com.au/first-aid-training  or by calling call 9334 1233.

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