First Aid for Kids for 15 Common Childhood Injuries

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Jan 28, 2015

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I have lost count of the number of times during my first aid courses that I encounter myths about first aid for kids and their injuries and illnesses. Even with minor accidents, at best, these myths can slow your child’s recovery—at worst they can prove fatal. Knowing what to watch for — and how to address it — keeps you calm and your child safe. Read on for a quick guide to first aid for kids.

Quick and dirty clean guide to first aid for kids

First aid for nose bleeding

Nosebleeds are among the most common of childhood injuries. They have many causes—from dry air and nose picking, to a blow to the face.

When it come it comes to first aid for nose bleeding, the general rule for treating blood loss does not apply. If you elevate the affected area by tilting the head back, blood may run down the throat and affect breathing and possibly cause choking. Also, pinching the bridge of the nose has no impact on the bleeding. Instead, treat a nosebleed by:

  • Tilting your child’s head forward
  • Pinching the soft part of the nose (just below the bone) in order to help the blood to clot
When to get medical help

The bleeding should subside after 10 minutes; if it does not, repeat the steps above three times. If the bleeding continues after 30 minutes, take your child to a doctor or hospital.

First aid for crushed fingers

Kids are always getting into small spaces, and sometimes, they can’t get themselves all the way out. Fingers get caught in doors and drawers, under heavy books, and in all sorts of places you wouldn’t have imagined possible. Treat crushed fingers by putting ice on the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes. You can also put the injured hand in a bowl of water with some ice cubes, or put ice cubes in a small cloth and hold it around the fingers or hand. This will relieve pain and ease swelling. If your child is in pain, consult with your pediatrician who may advise giving your child ibuprofen to help with the pain and any swelling.

If your child’s fingernail has been partially broken, wash the area with clean water, apply an antiseptic ointment, and cover the area with gauze, secured with tape. Do not put a Band-Aid or sticky tape directly on the nail. If the nail has been pulled out completely, 
cover the area with gauze (do not use a band aid or other sticky tape), save the nail and take your child to a hospital. The doctors may be able to “sew” the nail back on.

When to get medical help

If your child shows signs of a break or fracture, consult a doctor immediately and take your child for an X-ray. Signs include:

  • If your child’s hand or fingers are in an unnatural position
  • If she cannot move her hand or fingers
  • Rapid bruising or swelling
  • Extreme pain at a specific point

First aid for sprain and strain

Muscle strains and joint sprains are generally treatable with first aid at home, simply:

  • Apply cold pressure to the injured area for up to 20 minutes. Repeat at least four times a day.
  • Wrap the area with an elastic sprain bandage
  • Keep the injured area elevated above the heart as much as possible
  • Rest the injured limb. If your child must use the injured area, tape or splint it to prevent further injury.
When to get medical help

Always consult a doctor prior to giving your child any pain medication. You should follow up with a doctor further, however, if your child:

  • Is in steady severe or uncontrolled pain
  • Has a hand, wrist, foot, or ankle that is misshapen beyond normal swelling
  • Cannot walk four steps, even with a limp
  • Has severe pain when the affected joint is pressed

First aid for wounds and bruises

From scrapes to paper cuts to gashes, blood is always shed in the game of growing up. Bleeding wounds and bruises often look scarier than they are—half of treatment is about keeping your head while administering first aid for kids. First aid for wounds starts by stopping the bleeding. Pinch or press down on the cut or wound using gauze or a clean cloth. This helps induce clotting, which stops blood loss. Then:

  • Wash the cut. Pour clean water or saline solution (a mix of salt and water) over the wound and leave it open to dry. If using an antiseptic liquid to wash the wound, dilute it with water before applying it. Do NOT use cotton wool, which will stick to the cut or wound.
  • Bandage the cut. A crepe bandage or Band-Aid can be used to prevent dirt from entering the wound on a temporary basis. However, if using one, be sure to check the wound twice daily for signs of infection.

Many people ask whether turmeric can be used as a disinfectant in first aid for children. Turmeric does have disinfectant properties, but store-bought turmeric may not be pure. If you have homemade turmeric, by all means mix it with clean water and apply the thin paste to the cut or wound.

First aid for bruises and swelling — assuming it’s not indicative of a more serious condition (like a break or a fracture) — is also performed at home. Apply a cold compress to the affected area for at least 15 minutes. If you are using ice, ensure that you wrap the ice in a cloth, rather than apply it directly to skin. If possible, elevate the bruised or swollen area above the heart.

When to get medical help

Consult a doctor immediately if the bleeding doesn’t stop or if the healing wound shows signs of infection.

First aid for animal bites

Although most (non-poisonous) animal bites are not fatal, they do require first aid for kids. First aid for animal bites involves:

  • Apply gauze firmly on the wound until the bleeding stops
  • Wash the wound thoroughly with a disinfectant solution diluted with water
  • Apply an antiseptic cream
  • Cover the wound with a crepe bandage
When to get medical help

In general, after treating an animal bite, it is best to still seek professional medical care to further assess the wound and ensure your child is properly vaccinated for tetanus and rabies. However, for multiple or serious animal bites on your child’s head or neck, immediately take your child to the nearest hospital.

First aid for choking

Choking is one of the most common childhood accidents. It’s not necessarily life-threatening if you and your child stay calm and are able to dislodge the object. First aid for choking starts by encouraging your child to cough. Coughing is the body’s natural response and most likely way to dislodge the object blocking her windpipe. However, if it becomes obvious she cannot clear the obstacle herself, then:

Lean her forward, using your arm to support her around the abdominal area, and give five sharp back blows between the shoulder blades, using the lower part of your hand. (For more detailed instructions on first aid for choking, see my article on How to Help a Choking Baby or Child).

Look in your child’s mouth and remove any obstructions near the opening. Do NOT put your fingers inside the mouth to dislodge an object.

When to get medical help

If your child stops breathing, begin and continue CPR and call for emergency care.

First aid for fever

Fever is caused by infection, and the only way to reduce it is to give medication or cure the infection. First aid for kids suffering from a fever starts by checking your child’s temperature using a digital thermometer, not your hand. Then:

  • Consult with your pediatrician if your child has a fever. Calpol (paracetamol) and/or ibuprofen can be given to lower temperature, if the pediatritian advises. Whichever medicine you use, make sure you know your child’s weight in order to follow the dosage and instructions on the package. Do NOT give aspirin to him unless your doctor tells you to use it.
  • Do NOT cover your child with extra blankets or clothes, even if he has chills. This may keep the fever from coming down, or  even make it higher. One layer of lightweight clothing and one lightweight blanket for sleep is sufficient, and keep the room at a comfortable temperature.
  • Do NOT put your child in a cold bath or under a cold shower, as this can chill them and cause shivering. Instead, give a sponge bath or place a lukewarm towel on his forehead.
  • Monitor your child’s temperature every few hours and keep a record of the temperature and time at which it was taken, as well as any medicine given, its dosage and time.
  • Stay in touch with your child’s pediatrician.
When to get medical help

If your child has a fever, you should already be in touch with his pediatrician, who can advise if the fever worsens.

First aid for a head injury

Children, especially young ones, most commonly injure their heads by falling. Most of the time, these accidents will injure the scalp only, apparent by a cut, bruise, or swelling. Assuming your child is not an infant, has not lost consciousness, and is alert and behaving normally, follow this course of first aid for a head injury:

  • Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 15-20 minutes three to four times a day
  • Observe your child over the next 24 hours for any unusual behavior, like disorientation, vomiting, or fatigue
  • Check regularly if your child is sleeping, to make sure he is fine. Unless a doctor has instructed otherwise and if he has no other symptoms, let him sleep.
  • Trust your instincts. If your child is not acting normally, call your pediatrician
When to get medical help

If you’re worried the impact was dangerous, don’t take chances—severe head injuries can have grave consequences. Call your doctor or take your child to the nearest hospital immediately if your child:

  • Is below one year of age
  • Has lost consciousness, even momentarily
  • Won’t stop crying
  • Complains of head, neck or back pain or isn’t walking normally
  • Vomits repeatedly
  • Falls asleep and is difficult to wake

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms, he may have a concussion, which can affect brain function. The best route to recovery from a concussion is to follow your doctor’s advice and let your child have plenty of rest. As long as your doctor has ruled out serious injury, a concussed child need not be woken every few hours.

First aid for burns

The best way to treat a burn is to avoid one. But sometimes, accidents happen. First aid at home is effective for minor burns, but more serious ones must be treated at a hospital. First degree burns, which are usually pink or red and appear wet, only affect the outer layers of skin. These can be easily treated with first aid for burns at home by:

  • Removing any watches, belts and surrounding clothing from the area
  • Placing the burn under cool, clean running water or soak the area in cool water for at least 15-20 minutes—DO NOT peel off any clothing covering the area of the burn or burst any blisters
  • Covering the burn with sterile gauze—DO NOT use cotton wool
  • Applying a cooling cream such as calamine or aloe vera—DO NOT use creams, oils, or butters to soothe the irritation, which trap the heat inside the body and make the burn worse
When to get medical help

Take your child to the nearest hospital immediately if:

  • He has burns on his face, hands, feet, groin, buttocks or a major joint
  • The burn is red or white and appears dry
  • Sensation is diminished or absent

First aid for fractures and dislocations

A dislocated joint will appear deformed and the injury will be very painful. If it is a fracture or a break, the limb may be in an unnatural position, may not be usable, may swell or bruise rapidly, or may be extremely painful at a specific point. All dislocations and fractures need professional medical attention as soon as possible. Do not try to treat them from home.

When to get medical help

Arrange transportation to a nearby hospital immediately. In the meantime, follow these steps for first aid for fractures:

  • Immobilize above and below the dislocated joint by using a splint. Minimise your child’s movement while splinting and administer the splint without changing the position or trying to straighten the limb.
  • Check circulation before and after splinting; loosen the splint if it interferes with circulation.

Specifically:

  • For fractured fingers and toes, tape the affected digit to adjacent fingers and toes for support
  • For dislocated shoulders, use a triangular bandage as a sling to support the affected arm
  • For fractured or dislocated jaws, sit your child down, lean forward, and hold her jaw
  • For pelvic injuries, place padding between the legs, from the knees to the ankles, and tie at the knees and ankles together to keep the legs in place. Place a cushion underneath the knees.

First aid for drowning

Children can drown in water that is only a few inches deep. Most childhood drowning or near-drowning cases occur in pools, bath tubs, buckets, inflatable pools, toilets, and drainage sites. These commonplace sites make it easy to miss; knowing the signs of drowning is part of knowing first aid for drowning, as you child may not be able to call for help:

  • Floating face down
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Desperately trying to swim but cannot reach the side of the pool
  • Gasping for air

If your child is breathing, put him face down, with one knee bent at a 90-degree angle for stability and his head tilted back to open his airway. Arrange transport to a hospital immediately.

When to get medical help

If your child is not breathing, begin and continue CPR and take him to the nearest hospital.

After your child has been treated, do watch for the signs of secondary or “dry” drowning. Even if your child has breathed in small amount of water, it can cause difficulty breathing from airway spasms or a build-up of fluid in the lungs. Closely monitor your child over the next 24 hours and immediately take him to the nearest hospital if he:

  • Coughs persistently
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Feels unusually tired
  • Exhibits mental confusion
  • Appears blue or pale in skin and lips
  • Loses consciousness
  • Loses bowel or bladder control

First aid for eye injuries

All eye injuries are potentially serious due to the risk to your child’s vision. Do not try to treat them from home.

When to get medical help

Take your child to the nearest hospital for any eye injury. In the meantime, follow these steps for first aid for eye injuries:

  • Prevent your child from rubbing it
  • Flush with the eye with clean water (for chemicals in the eye, continue flushing the eye for 15 minutes)
  • Do not apply pressure to the eye
  • Do not touch or remove any object embedded in the eye
  • Cover the eye with an eye patch, if the embedded object is small, or a cup, if the embedded object is large
  • Consider covering both eyes to deter your child from moving or straining the injured eye

For a black eye or blow to the eye, apply a cold compress for 15 minutes.

First aid for swallowing chemicals or medication

Do not try to treat this from home.

When to get medical help

Immediately. Get your child to a doctor or hospital immediately, taking the container of poison/chemicals with you. Doctors will either give her a neutralising agent or pump her stomach. In the meantime, follow these steps for first aid for swallowing chemicals:

  • Do NOT try to make your child vomit. Most cleaning products are corrosive—they will burn on the way down and will burn again on the way back up, causing double the amount of damage.
  • Only give small sips of cool water or milk if your child needs a drink due to burning in the mouth and throat. Do NOT give your child too much fluid, which could induce vomiting or cause the poison to spread through the body.
  • Keep your child sitting or standing to protect the esophagus. Do NOT let her lie down.

First aid for seizures

Do not try to treat this from home.

When to get medical help

Immediately. If your child has a seizure for the first time or if it lasts more than five minutes, take your child to the nearest hospital. Inform the doctors of when the seizure occurred, what your child was doing at the time, whether your child has a fever, and how long the seizure lasted. In the meantime, while the child is seizing, perform this first aid for seizures:

  • Prevent injury by removing any nearby hard or sharp objects
  • Protect his head by placing a soft cushion under neath it
  • Remove the child’s spectacles, if he wears them
  • Roll your child onto his left side, to prevent choking in case he vomits
  • Do NOT restrain your child or prevent him from moving
  • Do NOT put your finger, a spoon or any other object in your child’s mouth, which could cause him to choke
  • Do NOT give your child any water, food or medication until the seizure is over and he is fully alert

Finally, if your child is injured during a seizure or is in pain afterwards, take him to a pediatrician or hospital.

First aid for electric shock

Do not try to treat this from home.

When to get medical help

Immediately. If your child has suffered an electric shock, immediately call for transportation to the nearest hospital. In the meantime, follow these steps for first aid for electric shock:

  • Do NOT touch your child if the current or the source of the current remains in contact with her
  • Break the current by switching off the socket or fuse box or use a non-conducting item (such as a wooden stick, blanket, or rope) to break the connection or move your child away from the current
  • Check that your child is breathing. If not, begin and continue CPR.
  • Check for burns and treat accordingly

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Written By Keshinee Shah

Ms. Keshinee Shah is an international lawyer and management consultant, with 20 years of first aid experience. She is a first aid instructor and has been conducting training in first aid under Emergency First Response for parents, students, care-givers and professionals, both in India and the UK, since 2011. Keshinee also holds a Diploma in Infant Massage from the UK.

See all articles by Keshinee

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