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Debunking 5 First-Aid Myths

Get the facts about common home remedies handed down for generations

A family medicine physician at Scripps Health in San Diego offers some practical advice for at-home first aid.

Minor injuries and illnesses are usually treated at home, often with common supplies stored in the medicine cabinet, fridge or freezer. But Marianna Siksay, MD, a family medicine doctor at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Carlsbad, cautions that many old-school first-aid tips handed down through the generations aren’t safe.

Dr. Siksay highlights a few first-aid myths that may do more harm than good.

  1. Put butter on a burn.
    First-degree burns can be treated at home, but don’t pull out the butter dish. Butter may do wonders for your mashed potatoes, but it does nothing for burns except add foreign particles and increase the risk of infection. Reach for a cool cloth and a frozen bag of vegetables instead. Minor burns need to be cooled, so run cool water over the burned area for at least 10 minutes, and then apply an over-the-counter antibiotic.
  2. Tip your head back if you have a nose bleed.
    Never tilt your head back to stop a nose bleed as it will only make the blood flow down the throat into the lungs or into the stomach, which may cause vomiting. To stop a bloody nose, lean slightly forward and pinch your nose just below the bony part where glasses sit, using your thumb and index finger. Press firmly for no less than five to 10 minutes. If a bloody nose follows an accident or injury to the head, seek medical attention immediately. Also contact your primary care doctor if you have frequent nosebleeds or if they are difficult to control.
  3. Apply cold only to a twisted knee or ankle.
    How you treat a twisted ankle or knee depends on the stage of the injury. If you can immediately treat the area, use RICE: rest, ice for the first 24 hours, compress gently with a bandage and elevate the twisted area over the level of your heart. Applying ice reduces swelling and pain and limits any internal bleeding at the injury site. To use ice effectively, place it on the affected area in a thin towel, 20 minutes at a time.
  4. Apply a cold steak to a black eye.
    Your frozen steak may have bacteria on it, so covering your injured eye with it is not recommended. Instead, apply a crushed ice pack or a package of frozen vegetables to the affected area for 10 minutes at a time. If the eyeball is damaged or vision is impaired, see your doctor.
  5. Clean a cut or scrape with hydrogen peroxide.
    Using hydrogen peroxide to clean an injury can actually harm the tissue and delay healing. The best way to treat a minor cut or scrape is to clean it with cool water, rinsing thoroughly to remove dirt, debris and bacteria. Protect the injury with a bandage and see your doctor for a wound that is large, deep or bleeding heavily.