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Treatment of External Bleeding

Coming across somebody who is bleeding heavily can be very frightening. It may be reassuring to remember that many adults donate up to a pint (570ml) of blood with no ill effects, and yet if this same amount were tipped on to the floor it would look very alarming. Serious shock in an adult tends to develop only after 2 pints (roughly 1 litre) of blood or more is lost from the body, and even this can be effectively treated with good first aid and early hospital care.

First Aid Treatment

The three main principles of the treatment of external bleeding are:

  • Look
  • Apply direct pressure
  • Elevate
  1. Look at the wound to check how large it is. Check that the wound has nothing in it (known as a foreign body).
  2. Apply direct pressure to the wound. If the casualty is able to press on the wound, encourage him or her to do so. If not, then apply direct pressure yourself, initially with your fingers and eventually, if you have it to hand, with a sterile dressing or a piece of clean cloth. Applying direct pressure to the wound enables the blood to clot and therefore stems the blood flow from the cut. Once applied, a sterile dressing (or whatever you have to hand) should ideally be held in place with a firm bandage or improvised bandage such as a scarf or tie.
  3. Elevate the wound. If the injury is on an arm or leg, raise the wound above the level of the heart. It is harder for the blood to pump upwards and this therefore reduces the blood flow to the wound and thus the fluid loss from the body.
  4. Treat for shock. Keep the casualty warm and continually at rest. Reassure the casualty.

Protecting yourself

Where possible, you should avoid direct contact with blood or other body fluids such as vomit. This is to protect both you and the person that you are treating. There are several ways of doing this:

  • If available, use gloves. These come in many different sizes and materials (particularly useful if you have an allergy to latex) and should be kept in every first aid kit.
  • If the person bleeding is able, ask her to apply direct pressure to the injury herself.
  • Use bandages, dressings or other materials, such as a handkerchief or T-shirt, as a barrier between your hand and the wound.
  • Keep injuries on your own hands covered with plasters or dressings.

If you do get blood on your skin, simply wash off well with soap and hot water. Clear up spills of blood or vomit with a bleach and water solution. Clothing that has been stained by blood or vomit should be put through a hot wash in the washing machine. If you are concerned about the possibility of infection after dealing with body fluids, contact your doctor. It is important to remember that the risk of cross-infection is minimal and that in most instances where you are applying first aid you will be doing so for a member of your own family.

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