As we head into the summer season, many of us head outside to the great outdoors. But unfortunately, more fun in the sun will also mean some of us will get hurt and require immediate first aid. On NBC’s “Today” show, emergency room physician, Dr. Kevin Soden was invited to help dispel some first-aid myths and offer some tips on the best ways to get up and running again. Here are his suggestions:
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We've said this before, using butter to treat a burn, could lead to an infection. What is the best way to ease the pain?
The best thing to do is to immediately cool the burn by running cold water on it for several minutes. If it’s red or you only have a small blister, then you can apply some first aid cream and cover with a dry dressing. If there’s significant blistering, then you should be seen by a doctor.
Bee stings are a common problem. Does everyone get allergic reactions to them?
Not everyone is allergic to bee stings, but for those people who develop a swollen tongue, feel like their throat is tightening up, have breathing problems, or have had severe problems in the past, they need to get to the ER immediately.
If a person has had a severe reaction in the past, they need to keep what's called an ANA-kit nearby. This is a kit that contains adrenaline and Benadryl and should be used immediately. I've seen farmers keep them on their tractors and had others keep a kit in a fanny pack if they are out jogging or in the glove compartment of their cars.
If you don't get a severe reaction, how can you treat a sting at home?
First, don't apply kerosene, Clorox or chewing tobacco directly to the stings. Instead, apply ice directly to the stings or cold running water. Remove the stinger if still in the skin by brushing the skin with a credit card or using tweezers. You can then apply hydrocortisone cream or apply a paste with baking soda or Adolph's meat tenderizer. It will take the pain away very quickly.
Since we're on bites, what can you do about chiggers, mosquitoes and other insect bites?
You can use the meat tenderizer paste or baking soda paste as that helps to relieve some of the itching. You can use clear nail polish on chigger bites but not on the other bites. For those, you can use various lotions like Calamine lotion.
We generally don't advise sprays with Lanacaine or the other “caines” in them as they have the potential to cause allergic reactions in some people if used too long.
What about snake bites. We've seen lots of movies and TV shows where the hero pulls out a knife, cuts the skin and sucks out the venom. Is this really a good idea?
Making an incision and sucking out the venom has been taught in first-aid courses for years, but it's no longer the right thing to do. Cutting a wound can possibly cut an artery, a nerve or a tendon and can increase the risk of infection. You remove very little venom in the previous way so the best thing to do is immobilize the limb and get the person to a hospital as soon as you can. Some other things to do if bitten are to remove all jewelry in the area near the bite and don't use a tourniquet or apply ice as this can often cause more problems.
This has been in the news lately but not everyone is getting the message. Don't reach for that bottle of ipecac syrup right away to induce vomiting if your child swallows something they shouldn't. What should you do first?
You shouldn't induce vomiting with syrup of ipecac until you call a poison control center because a poison that contains hydrocarbons in it like gasoline or kerosene can cause problems in the lungs if a patient vomits. The poison control center will give you the best treatment for a particular medicine or chemical. You should then go to the emergency room or consult your doctor for further care.
If you're outside in the wind and something flies into your eye causing immediate pain or irritation, don't rub them. What should we do instead?
Our first instinct is to rub our eyes, but that's very dangerous as it can make things worse by causing further tearing or more of an abrasion. The best thing to do is to wash out the eye with tap water or use a squeeze bottle to flush the eye gently. If the feeling of something in the eye persists, then you'll have to go to the ER for a better examination and to get it removed. In the past, we also used to patch the eye but now we just use antibiotic eye cream and let the eye heal by itself.
Sprains and strains are an inevitable part of many outdoor athletic activities like basketball, skateboarding, baseball and rollerblading. What's the best treatment for each?
A strain occurs most commonly when you stretch a muscle too far and get tiny tears in the muscle. This happens when we overstretch or overuse our muscles especially when we do too much exercise and we're not used to it.
A sprain happens most commonly when we twist our ankles, knees and wrists and we tear our tendons and blood vessels. Oftentimes with sprains, you'll see immediate swelling and feel immediate pain.
The best initial treatment for sprains is ice as we want to constrict the blood vessels that cause the bleeding so we don't get anymore swelling. You should then splint the joint until you’re seen by a doctor and continue to use ice for about 48 hours. You can also put gentle pressure on the joint to help prevent swelling.
What about muscle strains? If I exercise too much or swing a golf club too much, my muscles are sore that same day or worse that next morning.
Ice is always a safe thing to use initially as it will prevent swelling in the strained muscles. After using ice for the first hour, you can then use a relatively new product that's used by many professional athletes, athletic trainers and sports medicine specialists to relieve pain and keep the muscles loose. It's called Thermacare Therapeutic Heatwraps and they're especially good for the lower back and large muscle areas. They last for 8-10 hours. I've used them as have many of my friends and we swear by them.
Going barefoot or sticking our hands and fingers on things in the garden can lead to a puncture wound in our skin. How do you stop the bleeding?
The first thing that needs to be done is to stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure. Then we need to clean the wound with soap and water to reduce the risk of infection. You can also use hydrogen peroxide or antibiotic soaps or iodine-containing cleansers but these can be irritating to the skin.
After cleaning the wound, apply a thin layer of an antibiotic cream like polysporin or Bacitracin. These materials don't heal the wound any faster but they reduce the risk of infection and allow the body's natural defenses to heal the wound more effectively.
Many people cover wounds with a bandage but exposure to air actually speeds healing. Bandages help keep bacteria and dirt from the wounds. Make sure to clean the wound regularly and change any bandage daily. And make sure to watch for signs of infection like redness, drainage, warmth or swelling. If you get these, then you need to see a doctor.
How about splinters? Can you sterilize a needle in a flame like grandma used to do to get below the skin to get out a splinter or foreign body out?
Yes, that's perfect. Make sure to wash the skin with soap and water before putting the needle in the skin and then tweezers cleaned with alcohol can be used to remove splinters or debris from the wound. Make sure to use an antibiotic cream when done.
Dr. Kevin Soden is an emergeny room physician and regular guest on "Today."