By Chris Woolston, M.S.
There's more to first aid than covering up wounds or stopping bleeding. When treating an injury, relieving pain should also be a top priority. Prompt treatment for pain will make an injured person feel more calm and comfortable. Pain relief may also make it possible for the person to move safely on her own -- a handy thing if the nearest phone is miles away. Pain can also be a guide to treatment. If pain is fading, the treatments are probably working. But if pain is severe or growing steadily worse, you know it's time to get professional medical help.
First aid for pain requires planning. When stocking a first aid kit, be sure to include over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. NSAIDs can ease swelling as well as discomfort.
You should also include instant-activating cold packs to treat the pain of insect bites, bruises, and scrapes. Cold packs can also be applied to sprains and strains. Gauze, adhesive tape, and scissors will make it possible to properly dress burns, and elastic wraps, such as ACE bandages, can be used to wrap injuries to muscles, joints, or bones. It might be helpful to have some lightweight materials handy such as a folded newspaper or blanket that can be used to splint broken bones when necessary.
With a well-stocked first aid kit and sufficient knowledge about pain relief, you'll be prepared to respond to a variety of painful injuries.
Obvious fractures and dislocated joints require medical attention right away. Don't try to straighten a dislocated limb, but protect it from further injury until you can see a doctor. For a dislocated shoulder, make a sling to help minimize movement and apply ice to the area to help with the pain.
Remember to seek immediate medical attention if you begin to have trouble breathing or if the swollen area around the sting site is particularly large or persists for more than 72 hours. When stings cause severe allergic reactions, they can be dangerous, even life-threatening.
An epinephrine pen (auto-injector) is a useful thing to have in your kit if you expect to be with someone who has severe reactions and needs immediate treatment. These allergy kits can be prescribed for this purpose by a physician.
Further ResourcesThygerson, Alton L., Thygerson, Steven M., and Thygerson.Matthew L. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Wilderness First Aid Field Guide. Jones and Bartlett. 2006.
Duke University Medical Center. Stocking a first-aid kit. September 2002. http://www.dukemednews.org/news/healthtip.php?id=5710
National Safety Council. First Aid & CPR. http://www.nsc.org/safety_home/FirstAidCPR/Pages/Firstaid_CPR.aspx
Arthritis Foundation. First aid with R.I.C.E. http://www.arthritis.org/resources/SIP/RICE.asp
Massachusetts General Hospital. Basic burn care/first aid burn treatment. http://www.massgeneral.org/burns/patients/
Mayo Clinic. Burns: first aid. January 2005. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-burns/FA00022
The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. How to splint a fracture. http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/firstaid/splint.shtml
Mayo Clinic. Dislocated shoulder when to seek medical advice. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dislocated-shoulder/DS00597/DSECTION=5
American Academy of Family Physicians. Cuts, scrapes, and stitches: caring for wounds. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/firstaid/after-injury/041.html
Mayo Clinic. Insect bites and stings: first aid. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-insect-bites/FA00046
Nemours Foundation. Insect stings and bites. http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/emergencies/insect_bite.html
Mayo Clinic. Cuts and Scrapes: First Aid. January 2008. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-cuts/FA00042
Last Updated: March 11, 2013
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