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How to Save a Life: First Aid Responses Every Adult Needs to Know

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Imagine: one day while you’re preparing dinner, your son reaches up and pulls a hot pan down on top of himself. Your husband slices his finger with the knife he was using as you reach over to try to stop your son. Your infant daughter startles at the sight of blood and chokes on the cookie she’s eating. Hearing the screams, your father-in-law runs into the room, sweating, clutching his chest in pain.

While this story may be farfetched, it does touch on a lot of common ailments and injuries that, as adults, we should know how to handle. First aid and how to respond to an emergency isn’t the kind of thing they normally teach in high school (unfortunately), but it’s important to know how to handle these things so that you’re ready for such emergency situations.

Below, we’ve covered basic warning signs and first aid responses for choking, heart attacks, strokes, burns, bleeding, allergic reactions, a stopped heart, and concussions. While it’s one thing to read an article or post about these situations, we do highly suggest taking a class from the American Red Cross for a more hands-on learning experience. Get yourself certified to properly help others HERE.

On another note, one thing to keep in mind when you have multiple situations to deal with (like the above scenario) is prioritizing trauma. We’re not covering this topic today in any great detail, but your main priority should generally be anyone unable to breathe, then you can work your way down by seriousness (so in the above scenario, choking – daughter, burn – son, heart attack – father in law, severe cut – your husband)… just make sure you call 911 ASAP!

First Aid and Emergency Responses You Need to Know | How to Respond in an Emergency Situation | Parent First Aid Skills | Basic First Aid Skills Everyone Should Know
First Aid Responses Every Adult Should Know

First Aid Practices & Responses

My fiancé, James, and I have both learned our fair share of first aid practices through different classes and certifications. It wasn’t until I got to college and took a first aid/health class that required American Red Cross certification that I actually realized how important it is to know, as a parent, things like the Heimlich Maneuver and how to treat burns. James was in the Army before he learned about it all and took a Combat Lifesaver class that covered all the basic topics but from a combat point of view.

We both wished they had offered a first aid class in our high schools. This kind of information is SO beneficial, something we believe everyone should know. Which is why we’ve worked together on this post and included it in The Adulting Series this month. (Check out the rest of our “adulting” topics HERE.)

Remember that with any emergency that involves someone who is unconscious, not breathing, severely burned or bleeding, or delusional after a head trauma, call 911. In fact, when in doubt, always call 911. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Stopped Heart or Breathing: CPR (source)

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. If you’re at all familiar with this process, you know that it entails chest compressions as well as breathing for the unconscious person. You’ll want to use this method if you ever find someone whose breathing and/or heartbeat has stopped.

The purpose of chest compressions are to pump blood (and therefore oxygen) throughout a person’s body when the heart has stopped. If you are not CPR certified, it’s advise that you stick to chest compressions only – 100-120 compressions per minute.

If you are CPR certified, you’ll want to do 30 chest compressions before checking the person’s airway and giving 2 “rescue breaths”.

(Courtesy of Nathan Pacelli vis Behance)

To do rescue breaths, you’ll need to tilt their head and lift their chin to keep their airway open. Pinch their nostrils shut, and breathe into their mouth, making sure their chest rises. Remember that it’s Compressions (30) – Airway (Tilt) – Breathing (2).

For children ages 1-8, CPR is essentially the same. The number of hands you use will depend on how big or small the child is. You’ll also need to breathe more gently, but the number of compressions and breathes are the same.

For babies under 1-year-old who are not breathing, you first need to make sure the baby isn’t unconscious from choking. If this is the case, refer to the Heimlich Maneuver below. If, however, you have no idea why baby is choking, continue with CPR. Place 2 fingers in the center of baby’s chest and gently compress ~1.5 inches, pumping 100-120 times a minute. After 30 compressions, tilt baby’s head to clear the airway, cover baby’s mouth and nose with your mouth, and breathe 2 breaths (1 second for each). Make sure baby’s chest rises.

Choking: The Heimlich Maneuver (source)

If you ever find yourself in a situation where someone is choking, you’ll want to know how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver. If you suspect someone’s choking, they may: be unable to talk, have difficulty breathing, be unable to cough forcefully, turn blue, or lose consciousness.

Before doing the Heimlich, the American Red Cross recommends trying back blows – hit them 5 times on the back between the shoulder blades.

If that doesn’t work, move on to abdominal thrusts.

(Courtesy of Cool College Helpers)

Stand behind the person choking, wrapping your arms around their waist. Make a fist with one hand and grab it with the other. Press/squeeze hard into the abdomen with quick, upward thrusts (as if you’re trying to pick them up). Whatever’s blocking their airway should dislodge. If it doesn’t and the person falls unconscious, perform CPR.

Keep in mind that if your victim is under 1-year-old, you’ll need to handle them a bit differently. Sit on a chair or surface and hold the baby facedown on your forearm, and rest your arm on your thigh. Thump them on the back gently but firmly 5 times with the heel of your hand.

(Courtesy of Netcare Education)

If this doesn’t work, hold them face-up with their head tilted lower than their body, using 2 fingers at the center of their chest to give 5 quick compressions. Repeat back blows and chest compressions until the blockage is removed, or help arrives.

Handling Minor and Major Burns (source)

Handling a burn is largely affected by whether the burn is minor or major. For minor, think sunburn or touching a hot pan for just a second. For major, think hot oil on the body, a burn resulting in skin transfer, large oozing blisters, or any burn that covers a large area of the body.

Treating Minor Burns

Small and minor burns, while uncomfortable, can be easily treated by first holding the affected area under cool running water until the pain eases. You can apply moisturizer or aloe vera gel. Over the counter pain meds may help ease the pain, as well.

Treating Major Burns

Call 911 immediately.

You’re going to want to protect the victim from anything else harmful, keeping them away from hot materials. Do not remove burned clothing that’s stuck to the skin.

Make sure the burned victim is breathing and blood is circulating (looking for coughing, movement, crying, etc). If not, begin CPR.

Although you aren’t suppose to remove burned clothing, you should remove jewelry, belts, and anything that could be restrictive around the burned area (it’s going to swell).

Dunking a burned area in cold water may seem like a good idea, but DON’T DO IT if there are large, severe burns. Doing so can lead to hypothermia or shock, losing too much body heat or blood pressure severely dropping.

Heart Attacks & Strokes

Both a heart attack and a stroke happen when blood supply is blocked (partially or completely) going to an important organ. If blood supply is blocked going into the heart (in a coronary artery), this results in a heart attack. If blood supply is blocked from going into the brain (in a carotid artery), this results in a stroke. Strokes, however, can also happen if a blood vessel weakens or bursts.

Heart Attacks (source)

Knowing when a heart attack is happening can be tricky. We’ve all heard the common symptoms of chest pains, discomfort or pain in their arm, shortness of breath, sweating, fainting… But did you know that some heart attacks have no symptoms at all? Did you know others may have warning signs days or weeks before an attack actually happens? Or that children can also have heart attacks, just as adults can?

(Courtesy of Marshfield Clinic)

It can be hard to tell when a heart attack is happening, but if you believe you or someone you know may be having a heart attack, you should absolutely call 911. Don’t wait for symptoms to get worse. Chew and swallow wan aspirin while you wait for help to arrive.

If the heart attack victim is unconscious, perform CPR until responders arrive.

Strokes (source)

Call 911 – this is an absolute emergency. If blood flow is blocked from your brain, or the brain is bleeding, this deprives your most vital organ from the nutrients it needs, and causes brain cells to die (and continue dying long after).

Stroke warning signs include drooping on one side of the face, one arm lower than the other when raised, slurred or strange speech, weakness or numbness, blurred vision, dizziness, and severe headaches.

(Courtesy of AtlantiCare)

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do for a stroke victim. Just call 911 and stay by their side until help arrives.

Severe Bleeding (source)

While we all know how to bandage a simple cut with Neosporin and a bright and colorful Band-Aid, you may not know how to handle severe cuts that cause a lot of bleeding.

In any instance with bleeding, your first step should be cleaning the wound. Don’t remove any large or deeply embedded objects, as this may cause even more bleeding. So if the wound has sand in it, wash it out. If there’s a knife in it, leave the knife. (Pro tip: Don’t let kids play with knives.)

Your next and number one priority (or the only priority if the wound is gushing), is to stop the bleeding. For most bleeds you can do this by applying a sterile bandage. You may also need to apply pressure to the area. Maintain that pressure by binding the wound with a tight bandage and secure it with tape. If bandages aren’t available, use your hands.

Make sure the injured person lies down and elevates the wound above the heart to help stop the bleeding.

(Courtesy of Inside First Aid)

For more severe situations, anything that will require sutures, if the bleeding won’t stop, and especially if you suspect internal bleeding, call 911. The dispatcher will be able to walk you through any next steps they think you should take.

“If the wound won’t stop bleeding, a tourniquet may be needed, but it should be done by someone who is trained to do so. In combat training, we worked with bandanas. First bandage, then a pressure dressing, then tourniquet as a last resort. We wadded up a bandana, pushed it into the wound, tied another cloth around the appendage and tied it tight over the injury.

A tourniquet, if needed, is done several inches higher than the wound. It has to be tied tightly enough to stop the bleeding. We had to use a stick under the cloth to twist and wind around, then secure it so the bleeding stopped. It’s also super important to write the time the tourniquet was done on the injured party. Often this is done with a red sharpie marker on the forehead, so that doctors immediately know how quickly they need to work.” – James

As an untrained civilian, we suggest talking to 911 and having the dispatcher walk you through it. Tourniquets are used to cut off the blood flow to an appendage that has been severely wounded, so that the victim doesn’t bleed out.

Severe Allergic Reactions

Normal allergic reactions that sometimes result in an itchy rash or stuffy nose and watery eyes can be treated with over the counter pills: antihistamines, decongestants, and hydrocortisone creams. But severe allergic reactions? They aren’t as easy to deal with. A severe allergic reaction, resulting in “anaphylaxis” can be caused by anything the person’s allergic to – from insect stings, to medications, to foods.

If you see someone with apparent skin reactions like rashes, hives, flushes, or pale skin, swollen eyes, face, lips or throat, wheezing or troubled breathing, dizziness or fainting, nausea vomiting or diarrhea, with a weak and rapid pulse – call 911 right away.

And if they carry an EpiPen (an epinephrine autoinjector), ask if you should use it on them. You can usually use it by pressing the injector against the person’s thigh.

However, if their reaction gets worse and they stop breathing, perform CPR.


Concussions are traumatic injuries to the brain that affect your brain function. Usually caused by blows to the head or violently shaking the head, concussions can cause loss of consciousness but most do not. Symptoms usually include headaches, lack of concentration, loss of memory or balance, nausea or vomiting, slurred speech, a dazed appearance, and especially fatigue. When I used to work in an auto insurance claims center, it was never surprising but always worrisome when you got a call from someone suffering from a concussion. It can be scary, but the important thing is to get help as soon as possible.

(Courtesy of the Salina Journal)

If you suspect a concussion after a head injury, call 911 and get the injured person checked out.

Other symptoms may include vision problems, confusion or disorientation, and other changes in behavior.

If you or your child experience any of the symptoms, it’s always better to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible, just to be on the safe side.

Be Prepared

I know we all hope, especially as parents, that we never have to use any of these practices and first aid responses in real life. But rather than wish away any negative situation, now that we’ve talked about it, you will be better equipped to handle these kinds of situations if they ever do happen. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

So if (God forbid) any of your children or those close to you have heart attacks, severe bleeding, major allergic reactions, third degree burns, a stroke, concussion, or what have you, YOU Mama, are going to understand what immediate actions need to be taken to keep your loved ones safe.

James and I highly suggest taking it a step further and getting certified with your local American Red Cross. You can find a class closest to you HERE on their website. I learned about all of the above responses through their Adult and Pediatric First Aid and CPR/AED certified class. It costs about a hundred bucks, but it is worth every penny to be able to help those you love when they need it most.

-Until next time-

5 thoughts on “How to Save a Life: First Aid Responses Every Adult Needs to Know”

  1. I have done various first aid courses over the last few years as a teacher and I think its so important for everyone to at least learn the basics of first aid! Its scary how things can easily happen, as you have found, so it would be great to know the basics of what to do in those situations

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