What is first aid? what is the recovery position?


What is first aid? what is the recovery position?

Globally, millions of people die each year as a result of accidents or serious injury. Unfortunately, many of those deaths could have been prevented had first aid been administered at the scene immediately, before the emergency services arrived.

First aid, or emergency first aid, is the care that is given to an injured or sick person prior to treatment by medically trained personnel.

In this article we will look at the history of first aid, how it works and how to do it.

Here are some key points about first aid. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • First aid can be both simple and life-saving
  • The Knights Hospitaller provided care to pilgrims and knights
  • The aims of first aid are to preserve life, prevent harm and promote recovery
  • In first aid, ABC stands for airway, breathing, and circulation
  • The recovery position helps minimize further injury
  • CPR stands for cardio-pulmonary resuscitation; it helps maintain the flow of oxygenated blood
  • Whilst doing chest compressions, you may hear cracks: this is normal
  • The term "first aid" was first used in 1863
  • In 1877, St. John Ambulance was formed in England.

What is first aid?

Some self-limiting illnesses or minor injuries may only require first aid intervention, and no further treatment. First aid generally consists of some simple, often life-saving techniques that most people can be trained to perform with minimal equipment.

First aid usually refers to administration of care to a human, although it can also be done on animals. The aim of first aid is to prevent a deterioration of the patient's situation, to aid recovery, and to preserve life.

Technically, it is not classed as medical treatment and should not be compared to what a trained medical professional might do. First aid is a combination of some simple procedures, plus the application of common sense.

A brief history of first aid

First aid can be both simple and life-saving.

The history of first aid varies depending on what part of the world one is referring to. Around the 11th century in Europe the Order of St. John was created with the aim of training people to medically care for victims of battlefield injuries - these were laypersons who were formally trained in the administration of first aid.

Around this period the Knights Hospitaller provided care to pilgrims and knights - they also trained other knights in dealing with battlefield injuries.

During the Middle Ages in Europe first aid took a back seat and did not really resurface until the second half of the 19th century. In 1859 Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, trained and organized local village folk to administer first aid to battlefield victims of the Battle of Solferino, Italy.

In 1863, four nations met in Geneva, Switzerland, and formed an organization which became the modern Red Cross - during this meeting the term first aid was first used with its modern meaning.

The initial aim of the Red Cross was to administer aid to sick and wounded soldiers. During the industrial revolution Great Britain had a number of civilian ambulance crews who would come to the emergency aid of miners, railway workers and policemen.

In 1877, St. John Ambulance was formed in England. It was based on the principles of the Knights Hospitaller, i.e. to teach first aid. Soon several organizations joined St. John Ambulance. Through St. John Ambulance, first aid training spread throughout the British Empire.

What are the aims of first aid?

  • To preserve life: this is the main aim of first aid; to save lives. This includes the life of the first aider, the casualty (the victim, the injured/sick person), and bystanders
  • To prevent further harm: the patient must be kept stable and his/her condition must not worsen before medical services arrive. This may include moving the patient out of harm's way, applying first aid techniques, keeping him/her warm and dry, applying pressure to wounds to stop bleeding, etc.
  • Promote recovery: this may include applying a plaster (bandage) to a small wound; anything that may help in the recovery process.

What are the vital first aid skills?

ABC stands for airway, breathing, circulation.

ABC (and sometimes D) The most common term referred to in first aid is ABC, which stands for Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. In fact, the term also is commonly used among emergency health professionals. The D stands for Deadly bleeding or Defibrillation.
  • Airway - the first aider needs to make sure the casualty's airway is clear. Chocking, which results from the obstruction of airways, can be fatal
  • Breathing - when the first aider has determined that the airways are not obstructed, he/she must determine the casualty's adequacy of breathing, and if necessary provide rescue breathing
  • Circulation - if the casualty is not breathing the first aider should go straight for chest compressions and rescue breathing. The chest compressions will provide circulation. The reason is time - checking circulation to a non-breathing casualty consumes time that could be used with chest compressions and rescue breathing. With less serious casualties (those that are breathing), the first aider needs to check the casualty's pulse
  • Deadly bleeding or Defibrillation - some organizations have this fourth step, while others include this as part of circulation
How to evaluate and maintain the ABC of a patient depends on how well trained the first aider is. As soon as ABC has been secured the first aider can then focus on any additional treatments.

Some organizations use the 3Bs system, which stands for Breathing, Bleeding, and Bones, while others use 4Bs, which stands for Breathing, Bleeding, Brain, and Bones.

ABCs and 3Bs are taught to be carried out in order of sequence. However, there are times when the first aider may be performing two steps at the same time, as might be the case when providing rescue breathing and chest compressions to a casualty who is not breathing and has no pulse.

Many organizations have other acronyms (similar to abbreviations) that remind people of their sequence of steps. First Aid Works, an organization that trains people in the UK uses DRAB to remind first aiders what to do during their Primary Survey:

Primary Survey - DRAB (danger, response, airway, breathing)

  • Danger- check for dangers to the casualty and to you as a first aider. If there is danger present, can you get rid of the danger, or move the casualty from the danger? If there is nothing you can do, stay away and get professional help. The worst thing a rescuer can do is become another victim
  • Response- if safe to approach, is the casualty conscious? See if the patient is alert, ask questions and see if you get a response, find out whether he/she responds to your touch. Very well trained first aiders will know how to find out whether the casualty responds to pain
  • Airway- is the casualty's airway open and clear? If not try to clear it. Trainers advice first aiders to have the casualty lying on their back, and then to place one hand on his/her forehead and place two finger from the other hand on the casualty's chin and gently tilt the head back while slightly raising the chin further upwards. Any obstructions need to be removed from the casualty's mouth, including dentures. First aiders are trained only to put their fingers in the casualty's mouth if they can see an obstruction there
  • Breathing- is the casualty breathing effectively? The first aider should look at the chest for movement, his/her mouth for signs of breathing (e.g. sounds), and get close to the casualty and see if air exhalation can be felt on the first aider's cheek.
The Secondary Survey - DOMS (deformities, open wounds, medic alert tags, swellings) If the casualty is breathing adequately, then it is possible to carry out a Secondary Survey. This is a rapid whole body check. As soon as this has been done, the casualty should be placed in a recovery position. At this point the first aider should call for an ambulance.


On the next page, we look at the recovery position and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

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First aid - How to put someone in the recovery position (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice