Debunking The Myths: Common Home Emergencies

By DivineCaroline

January 26, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Emergencies don’t come with warning bells. They strike at unexpected moments and your response, or lack thereof, could determine how things come out in the end. How much do you think you know about first aid and proper emergency response? Was Mom right about sweating out a cold?

Most people think they know quite a lot, but most of what they have learned consists of myths that could actually do more harm than good. Put yourself to the test and seriously ask yourself: what would I do in these situations?

  1. You grab a hot pan with your bare hands
    Do you put butter or mayonnaise on the burn? Hurriedly remove the child’s clothing because it is stuck to the burn? Do you get out the ice? Those are the common reactions in the case of a burn, but all of them are myths. Butter, mayo, or other types of grease may cause even more damage to tender skin. Pulling clothing or other materials stuck to the burn could damage the tissue or pull the skin off completely.

The correct action is to rinse gently with cool water and coat the burn with antibiotic ointment. If the burn is on a sensitive area of the body such as the face or if there are a lot of blisters, then go to the ER and do not pop the blisters. You also want to seek medical assistance if a burn completely circles a limb or is larger than your hand.

Further Reading: Burn First Aid at Mayo Clinic


  • Someone is having a seizure
    Do you move them? Do you hold them still? Do you force open their mouth with your finger or another object, or put something between their teeth? Do you simply watch them carefully and time the seizure? Again, most of these answers are common first aid mistakes that could lead to injury of the person seizing.


Prying the mouth open or moving them could lead to injuries such as muscle tears. The only reason they should be moved is if they are in an unsafe place and will likely fall off something and hurt themselves. Try to put them on their side and call 911. You may want to unbutton the top of their shirt or their belt to help them breathe and try to time the seizure activity. If the person is a known epileptic, emergency services only need to be called if it lasts for longer than five minutes. Never hold someone having a seizure unless you are preventing them from injury!

Further Reading: How to Handle a Seizure at AETNA.

  • You sprain your ankle
    Is it ice or heat you use? Do you prop it up? Should you rush to the ER? This is a very common injury that many people blow off without seeking medical attention. In most cases that is okay, but you do need to know how to treat it and when to seek help. The biggest problem is remembering when to use ice and when to apply heat. 

For an ankle sprain you want to apply ice. Heat will actually increase the swelling and could slow down the healing process. If it is painful to put any weight down on the foot then it may be a fracture and you should see a doctor.

Further Reading: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

  • You are bitten by a snake
    Do you rip off your shirt and wrap the wound? Suck out the poison and spit it on the ground? Get out your pocket knife and carefully cut the wound open so the poison can drain? 

These are all myths that can actually be quite dangerous and lead to more injury than is actually necessary. If you cut the wound even slightly you may slice tendons or nerves that cause more damage. Tourniquets often lead to the blood circulation being cut off and could lead to the loss of a limb. The safest response is to immediately splint the wound or wrap it in something clean and get to the ER right away.

Further Reading: U.S. National Library of Medicine

  • Your nose suddenly starts bleeding
    Should you lean forward and pinch your nose? Or tip your head all the way back so the blood cannot run out? More importantly, how do you know when it is serious enough to seek medical intervention? Nose bleeds are not always emergency situations, but they are the source of a major first aid myth. If you answered that you would lean forward and pinch the nose closed, you were actually correct. The myth is to tip your head all the way back so the blood cannot flow out, but this could be dangerous with a heavy nose bleed that doesn’t stop quickly. For a nose bleed, lean forward and pinch just underneath the bone. If the bleeding does not stop within five minutes seek medical attention. 

Further Reading: Family Doctor

  • Your child eats an entire bottle of Flintstones vitamins
    Do you assume children’s vitamins are safe and they will just be really healthy for a few weeks? Do you grab the Ipecac from the bathroom and force vomiting? Do you simply run to the ER? In the case of vitamins, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Children die every year from an overdose of iron and children’s vitamins are a main source of iron. For poisons in general, you want to keep the product that was swallowed and call poison control immediately. Depending on what was swallowed, different actions will need to be taken so you must remain calm enough to speak clearly and hear what you are instructed to do for the child. 

It is now advised that all Ipecac be thrown out completely. It is no longer considered a safe medical intervention, as some poisons can actually be made worse by vomiting. Also, a patient vomiting can seriously interfere with treatment once they are at the hospital.

Further Reading: Flintstone Vitamins

  • Someone starts to choke across the dinner table
    Do you jump behind them and do the Heimlich maneuver? Hand them their glass and encourage them to drink? Pat them lightly on the back? Your response to someone choking will depend on whether they are able to talk a little bit or if they cannot make any sound. If they are coughing violently and can speak a little, then it is a partial blockage. If they can only nod their head and/or are turning blue, then it is a full blockage that does require you to jump up and start thrusting upward around their stomach. 

The Heimlich maneuver will force air up through the body and help dislodge whatever is choking the person, but only in the case of a full blockage. If some air is getting through, then encourage them to continue coughing and stay close by, but you do not need to take action unless they start to have breathing trouble or turn blue. Do not give them anything to drink, as the fluid will take up what little space is left for air to pass through. In most cases a partial blockage can be coughed out, but if it becomes a full blockage then once again the Heimlich maneuver will be necessary. Do not perform the Heimlich on a child less than a year old. For a refresher, see this video:

  • Your child suddenly has an extremely high fever
    Do you give them Tylenol and wrap them in a warm blanket to sweat it out? Rub them down with rubbing alcohol? Put them in a tub full of cold water? While there are traces of good advice in two of these options, none of them are the best route to take with a fever. The biggest myth is that rubbing a child’s chest or forehead with rubbing alcohol will break a fever. The child will actually breathe in the alcohol, and their young systems are extremely sensitive to this substance. It is not healthy for them. 

While there may be some truth to the old wives tale of sweating out a fever, it is not a good thing to try with a child. Sudden high fevers can lead to febrile seizures, so putting them in a cool bath (not cold!) and giving them something like Children’s Tylenol to break the fever (if they are old enough for medication) is a better course of action. If you cannot get the fever down or if it goes above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you should seek medical attention.

Further Reading:

How many of these myths did you think were just standard first aid procedure? How many missteps might you have made if these things occurred in your home? Any of these things could happen and cause minor injuries that do not rise to the occasion of a true emergency, but you never know when something seriously tragic may happen. The ability to think on your feet and take the safest and most effective course of action is essential, especially in situations where you may be the only person around to help someone in need.

Written on 1/26/2010 by DivineCaroline. DivineCaroline a place where people come together to learn from experts in the fields of health, spending, and parenting. Come discover, read, learn, laugh, and connect at Photo Credit: slip

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