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14 Greatest First Aid Myths

Everybody Knows These, But They're All Wrong


Updated June 25, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What do you do if your best friend is stung by a jellyfish? If you read the internet, you may think the right idea is to pee - as in urinate - on the sting.

Yuck! Wrong.

It's time to dispel some of the most popular myths in first aid lore. Read on to see the worst first aid ideas, demystified with the correct response to each emergency.

Click on these mistakes to see what should really happen.

1. Scraping Off a Bee Stinger

Stinging bee
© Dimas Ardian/Getty Images
This is the granddaddy of all first aid myths. How fast you remove the stinger is much more important than how you remove it. Grab it, brush it, flick it -- it doesn't matter -- just don't spend time digging through your wallet for a Visa card to scrape it off.

2. Sucking a Snake Bite

Don't tread to close to a rattlesnake!
Image © Elizabeth R. Mitchell
Drug store snake bite kits want you to slice into a newly bitten victim and remove the poison by sucking it out. It doesn't work. It's not like the venom just sits in the wound, waiting for you to remove it with a two-cent plastic syringe. Sucking it out with your mouth is even worse - the snake will just get a two-for-one special that way.

3. Breathing Into a Paper Bag for Hyperventilation

Running makes you breath fast. Pneumonia makes you breath fast. Stress makes you breath fast. There are a lot of reasons why we hyperventilate (breath fast). In no case is a paper bag indicated as proper treatment. This one is actually very dangerous. DO NOT USE A PAPER BAG FOR HYPERVENTILATION!

4. Peeing on Jellyfish Sting

Jellyfish sting
Image © Pete & Brook
Hopefully, this is on a clothing-optional beach. Ooh! Cover your eyes, honey! Urine only works if it is acidic. Depending on diet, urine is not always acidic. Therefore, urine does not always work. Vinegar, however, always works. Moral of the story: use vinegar.

5. Curing Croup with Steam

A hot, steamy shower has plenty of good uses, but curing croup is not one of them. Comfort your baby in his own bed until his barking cough gets better and save the shower for you.

6. Putting Something in a Seizure Patient's Mouth to Bite

While somebody suffering a seizure may very well bite his or her tongue, it rarely becomes an airway emergency. Seizures look scary, but generally do very little harm. You're more apt to cause an airway blockage by stuffing your wallet in the seizure victim's mouth than by leaving the victim alone.

7. Leaning Back with a Nosebleed

I know, I know, mom's going to be mad when you bleed on your soccer uniform, but leaning back will cause you to swallow blood. Since your tummy doesn't like blood, you will vomit the blood. Gross, and it will definitely ruin your soccer uniform.

8. Raw steak on Black Eye

Ben Kay with a black eye
Image © David Rogers/Getty Images
Right out of a Popeye cartoon, this one. Putting raw steak on a black eye does nothing but contaminate the eye with whatever E coli is on the steak. This is all about the cold. Ice works just fine. If you insist on pulling something out of the fridge, try a bag of frozen peas - it's cleaner and it'll work better than the steak.

9. Butter on Burns

What is it with food and first aid? Butter and oil are great for basting, but unless you want to make a burn worse, leave them in the kitchen. Oils hold in the heat, exactly the opposite of what a burn victim needs. If you have to put butter on something - try the steak you won't be using for your black eye.

10. Drinking Alcohol to Warm Up a Cold Victim

St. Bernard dog with a keg
Image © Jon Rawlinson
Remember the pictures of St. Bernards racing through the snow-covered mountains, kegs of brandy lashed to their thick necks? Didn't happen. They were carrying mail. Just because a Hot Toddy by the fire keeps you warm in the ski lodge, it isn't a good idea to count on the booze in your bota bag to warm up. Alcohol makes you feel flush and warm, but actually leads to hypothermia in cold weather.
Related Video
How to Treat a Burn
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