Seven Outdoor First Aid Myths

The great outdoors has a strong draw for many people.  It seems that people who spend any amount of time outside are likely to experience some kind of outdoor related injury that requires medical attention.  Although most outdoor injuries are relatively mild and do not require professional medical attention, it is important to know how to provide effective first aid when an injury occurs.  There are many home remedies and old-wives tales surrounding outdoor first aid treatments and caretakers have to know how to sort proven treatments from ineffective and potentially dangerous ones. It is always a good idea to have some sort of First Aid training. One of the places I have used in the past to get my First Aid Certification is American Institute for CPR and First Aid.

1.    Myth:  Suck on a Snake Bite to Remove Poisonous Venom

Snake bites are puncture wounds into the skin caused by the snake’s fangs (teeth).  Poisonous snakes inject venom, a poisonous substance, into the victim through openings in their fangs.  The venom destroys surrounding tissue, can affect the nervous system, and may be lethal.  Treatment for snake bites often depicts a bystander using his mouth to suck the venom out of the wound or a cut placed near the wound and then spitting the venom onto the ground.  This is not an effective method.  It causes additional damage to the area and greatly increases the chance of infection.

Fact:  Treatment for a snake bite is similar to other puncture wounds.  Have the victim lie down with the wound below the heart.  Keep the victim still, cover the wound with a loose, sterile dressing, and wait for emergency responders to arrive.  The more a bite victim moves, the faster the venom will spread through the body.

2.   Myth:  Peeing on a Jellyfish Sting Reduces Pain and Swelling

This is a myth that appears on TV all the time.  A victim is stung by a jellyfish and a friend is awkwardly asked to urinate on the wound to stop the pain.

Fact:  Common jellyfish stings can be treated by pouring vinegar over the wound for 15 to 30 minutes.  Remove any remaining tentacles with tweezers.  Apply shaving cream and shave the area to remove any remaining nematocysts (the structures that release the stinging agent).  Some types of jellyfish stings require immediate medical attention.

3.    Myth:  You Should Squeeze Out a Bee Sting and Apply a Baking Soda Paste

This one is half true.  Bees often leave a stinger behind following a bee sting.  It is important to remove the stinger from the victim to prevent additional venom from entering the wound and infection.  Squeezing the stinger may actually force additional venom into the wound and increase pain.  First Aiders need to use a technique other than squeezing to remove the stinger.

Fact:  Use a credit card to gently flick the stinger from the wound.  Then apply a thick paste of baking soda and water to the area to reduce pain and swelling.  The baking soda part of the myth is true!  Call 911 if the victim experiences difficulty breathing.  This is a sign of a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction.

4.       Myth:  Rub or Pour Hot Water on Frostbite to Warm it Up

Frostbite occurs when skin is exposed to low temperatures and/or windy conditions for extended periods of time.  The body reduces blood flow to the limbs in order to keep the core warmer.  Frostbite can be extremely painful, including “pins and needles” symptoms and hot, red, blistered skin upon warming.  This myth involves various methods for warming frostbitten skin.  Rubbing the skin with warm hands is thought to use friction to create warmth and restore the flow of blood to the affected area.  Rubbing actually allows small water crystals that have formed inside the skin to create micro-cuts and abrasions inside the body.  Another variation of the myth uses hot water to warm the frozen skin.  Soaking or pouring hot water on the frozen area actually causes additional pain and damage.

Fact:  Frostbite should be treated by applying lukewarm water or dry heat to the frozen area.  Frozen hands can be placed in the victim’s armpits to supply warmth.

5.       Myth:  Rub Dirt Out of Your Eye

Dirt, bugs, and other foreign objects occasionally get into your eyes.  The natural instinct is to rub the eye until the object is forced out.  This can cause scratches and tears to the delicate tissue that makes up the surface of the eye.

Fact:  pour water over the eye until the foreign object is flushed out.

6.    Myth:  Drinking Alcohol Cures Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when a person is exposed to the elements and loses a substantial amount of body heat.  The body loses the ability to generate heat and the core temperature falls from around 98.6 degrees to below 95 degrees.  Although alcohol may warm the throat for a few minutes when it is swallowed, it does not warm the entire body.

Fact:  Hypothermia victims should be given warm fluids including sugary drinks and soup.  Dry clothes, a warm bath, high energy foods, and a warm, sheltered location are all effective treatments for hypothermia.

7.    Pour Vinegar on Sunburn

Sunburns occur when skin is exposed to high levels of ultraviolet light.  It causes the skin to become red, warm to the touch, and is very painful.  More severe sunburn can include blistered skin.  Some ill-informed people treat sunburn by pouring vinegar over the affected area.

Fact:  Treat sunburn by applying cool, damp gauze and aloe vera gels.  Ibuprofen will reduce the pain associated with sunburn.  Use a sunscreen with a high SPF rating to prevent sunburn.


 15 First Aid Myths by American Institute for CPR & First Aid