FIRST AID: Beware Of Causing Unintentional Harm

DP was playing with his peers when he suddenly fell down and began to jerk the whole body vigorously. He had brief period of unconsciousness. He had suffered the same experience about three times in the past. He would wake up confused, not knowing what had happened. This time, witnesses grabbed him and inserted a metal spoon into his mouth to prevent the teeth from clenching. Several tablespoons of salt were also forced into his mouth. While being taken to the hospital, he gasped for breath and died.

Sometimes, the first aid administered to sick people in situations of emergency does more harm to them than the problem that is being treated. This is as a result of ignorance on the part of caregivers. When individuals have accidental medical conditions in which they cannot help themselves, observers tend to act to help the victim. The nature and safety of help given is very important in determining whether the ill individual gets better or not. Below are two emergency situations where people commonly administer unsafe first aid.

Convulsion: This is an involuntary jerky movement of a part or every part of the body. The individual may in addition be unconscious. Wrong first aid approach that has been documented include the insertion of a stick or spoon in between the upper and lower rows of teeth. Some people believe that the victim will die when the teeth get clenched together. This is not true. Some caregivers have lost their fingers while they inserted them into the mouth of the convulsing individual. Another wrong first aid approach is insertion of the arm or leg of the person in fire with the intention that heat will stop the convulsion. Some victims have been badly burnt beyond remedy. The following are the appropriate things to do to a convulsing person.

  • The environment should be made safe. Dangerous objects that can harm the convulsing individual should be removed immediately.
  • The person should be laid on the side, in a recovery position. This helps open the airway so that the individual continues to breathe during the period of convulsion. One or two persons may be needed to keep the convulsing person in the recovery position.
  • Most times, the convulsion stops on its own. Therefore, no particular first aid measure stops the convulsion. If the convulsion does not stop after a few minutes, the individual should be taken urgently to the hospital where the appropriate medication would be administered to stop the convulsion.
  • In situations where the convulsion stops, the individual should still be taken to the hospital for proper evaluation of the cause of the convulsion. The right treatment can only be obtained in a hospital setting.


Poisoning: Most cases of ingestion of harmful substances occur accidentally. In a few cases, it is intentional among persons who want to commit suicide. Wrong first aid measures include forcing the individual to vomit the harmful substance ingested. While forcing the individual to vomit, there could be possible aspiration of the substance into the airway. This is common with hydrocarbon substances like kerosene. Aspiration of substances that had been swallowed prevents proper exchange of oxygen and carbon(IV) oxide in the lungs. Death may result. The appropriate first aid measure, if one can get it, is to administer activated charcoal to the individual to ingest.


The activated charcoal helps to prevent the toxic agent from being absorbed through the walls of the stomach and upper intestine into the blood. Activated charcoal works best when given within one hour of ingestion of the toxic substance. Every individual who had ingested dangerous substance must be taken to the hospital immediately for care.

Recommendation: In cases of medical emergency, if one is uncertain of the safety of the first aid to administer, call a health personnel for guidance or take the individual to the hospital immediately.


Post Author: Dr Ademola Orolu

Dr Ademola Orolu is a Consultant Family Physician. He holds the Fellowship of The West African College of Physicians. He is also an Associate Fellow of The National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria. He is in active clinical practice. He is a writer, a patient advocate, and has a passion for health education. He is the Medical Director/Chief Executive Officer of Nathaniel Health Consulting (a family hospital), Matogun, Ogun State. He is the editor-in-chief of The Family Doctors. He can be contacted via

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