Would you know what to do if you sliced your hand with a knife while chopping onions, or tripped and took a tumble down the stairs? Home accidents like these cause thousands of trips to the emergency room every year, but you don’t need to wait until disaster strikes to prepare yourself to handle the most common home emergencies. This quick med school crash course could save your life.
Emergency Number 1: Falling
After falling, there are four crucial questions that you must immediately ask yourself. If you say yes to any question, call 911 or get emergency medical attention right away.
1. Head: Did you lose consciousness or do you have dizziness or confusion?
2. Limbs: Carefully move your limbs. Is anything hard to move?
3. Back: Do you have any pain, numbness or tingling?
4. Neck: Do you have difficulty or pain when you turn your head?
In addition, if something is still tender to the touch or swollen after 24 hours, get it checked out by a doctor, since you might require an x-ray. If you’re just sore, an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and ice are your best bet. If you decide to take any medication, be sure to check the label or ask your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to take given your other medical conditions and medications.
Emergency Number 2: Kitchen Burns
Nearly 70% of all burns happen at home, and the kitchen is one of the biggest culprits. The first thing to do after a mild to moderate burn that is three or fewer inches in diameter is run it under cool (but not freezing) water. Alternately, you could use a cool compress for 10-15 minutes. The cool temperature helps to reduce swelling. Never put ice directly on a burn.
Next, assess how bad the burn is. A first-degree burn, which is the least severe, will look red and swollen and may be painful. In this case, aloe vera gel can help soothe the pain and may help prevent infection. If the burn covers a large area or a substantial portion of the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or over a large joint, seek emergency medical attention.
A second-degree burn means that your skin is burned below just the top layer. After a few minutes, you may notice bubbling and blistering of the skin. In this case, cover the burn lightly with gauze, but don’t apply anything else and do not pop the blisters. If the burn is larger than three inches in diameter or is on a sensitive area like the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or if it is over a major joint, seek medical help immediately.
Third-degree burns are the most serious and may look charred black, or white. In this case, you need to call 911 or get medical help immediately. In the meantime, cover the area with a clean, cool moist dressing, such as gauze, and raise the burned area above heart level.
Emergency Number 3: Cuts
Accidental cuts, especially when cooking, result in thousands of ER visits every year. For a minor cut, run it under cool water for two minutes (no soap or hydrogen peroxide, which can irritate the wound) and then apply pressure with a clean cloth for 10 minutes. Don’t keep checking to see if the bleeding stopped, since this can dislodge the clot that is trying to form. If the cut is deep (6 mm or deeper, or if there is fat or muscle protruding), jagged or gaping, over an artery or has anything embedded in it, or if you’re still bleeding after 10 minutes, go to the ER – you may need stitches.
If the bleeding has stopped, use an antibacterial ointment and wrap with gauze. At least once a day rinse the wound and replace the dressing, keeping it covered to reduce infection risk. If you haven’t had a tetanus shot within the last 10 years, you may need to get a booster quickly. If the wound or the object you cut it on was dirty, you may need another tetanus shot even if you have had one within the last 10 years. Call your doctor to check on your tetanus shot history and to see if you need a booster.