First Aid In The Home

By : Mr Mervyn Mok, Pharmacist at Unity JEM

First seen in Lifestyle Magazine (July 2014), page 114. This article is an unbreached version of the print edition.

Introduction

You hear a loud sound and rush to the living room. Your elderly father is unconscious and not breathing. Panic takes hold of you. A few first aid manoeuvres could save his life, but unfortunately, most people are not trained to handle such an emergency. The Singapore Red Cross has an estimated 25 000 certified first aiders and St John’s brigade has an estimated 10 000 certified first aiders. These numbers make up less than 1% of our population.

Young children and elderly tend to spend more time at home. Among the elderly, falls account for a large proportion of visits to the emergency department. Among children less than 15 years old, 45% of injuries happen at home, with 77% being falls.

Common injuries at home:

  1. Falls
  2. Cuts
  3. Burns and scalds
  4. Blunt and crush injuries
  5. Choking

It is hence important to be trained and be ready for any emergencies that may happen at home. Having a trained personnel and adequate first aid supplies can allow immediate aid to be rendered, increasing chances of survival and reducing injuries. Below are some simple steps on how to handle some of the more common emergencies at home.

Treatments

How to handle a case of an unconscious person at home:

  • Check the surroundings to ensure it is safe to approach (especially look out for sharp objects or electrical devices)
  • Try to wake the person and ask if he/she is alright
  • If the person is unresponsive, shout “help” and call for an ambulance (995: if staying in an apartment, it is better to go to the car park to wait for emergency personnel and guide them to your home)
  • Check breathing, and other vital signs (temperature, pulse)
  • Open mouth and check for obstruction (food, toys) and remove them
  • Commence cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the person is not breathing (sets of 30 compressions followed by 2 breaths into the mouth)
  • Place in recovery position when person starts breathing

How to handle falls with broken bones:

  • Stop any bleeding by applying pressure on the wound using sterile bandages or clean cloth (but do not press on protruding bones)
  • Avoid moving injured area. Immobilise injured area by wrapping the injured limb with a splint using bandages (can substitute splints with rolled up newspaper and bandages with cloth)
  • If person feels faint, let the person lie down and raise the legs

How to handle burns:

  • Act fast. Put affected area under cool (not cold) water for 5 minutes or use burn plasters if water is not available. Do not use ice on burns.
  • Do not pop the blisters. Cover the burn area with bandage or clean cloth.
  • See a doctor immediately if the burn is larger than 1 cm anywhere on the body or if it is on the face, hands or genitals.

It is important to have a well-stocked first aid kit at home to deal with minor accidents and injuries. The first aid kit should be locked and kept in a cool, dry place, out of reach of children.

A basic first aid kit may contain:

  • Plasters, in a variety of different sizes and shapes
  • Small, medium and large sterile gauze dressings
  • At least two sterile eye dressings (eye pads)
  • Eye shield
  • Triangular bandages
  • Crepe rolled bandages
  • Hypoallergenic tape
  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton buds
  • Safety pins
  • Disposable sterile gloves
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Alcohol-free cleansing wipes
  • Hand disinfectant/sanitiser
  • Sterile saline solution, for cleaning wounds and as an eye bath
  • Thermometer, preferably digital
  • Skin rash cream, such as hydrocortisone or calendula
  • Cream or spray to relieve insect bites and stings
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin (not to be given to children under 16), or ibuprofen
  • Cough medicine
  • Antihistamine tablets for allergies

Conclusion

Medicines should be checked regularly to make sure that they are within their expiry dates. However, do make sure that the person is not allergic to any of the medications or has any medical conditions that is contraindicated to taking the medications.

Even though first aid is important, we should not overlook preventive measures to make our homes safer such as non-slip tiles, handle bars to prevent falls. A standard first aid course with the Singapore Red Cross costs $130 and lasts 20 hours, divided over 2-3 days.

References:

  • Singapore Red Cross Society standard first aid training notes
  • Yeo et al. A review of elderly injuries seen in a Singapore emergency department. Singapore Med J 2009; 50(3):278
  • Thein et al. Childhood injuries in Singapore: a community nationwide study. Singapore Med J 2005; 46(3): 116-121
  • Mayo clinic website
  • Database of Singapore Red Cross and St Johns as of April 2014.

(Note: No records of number of certified first aiders – contacted Singapore Red Cross and St Johns to obtain numbers)