Health A to Z
Every year in the UK, thousands of people die or are seriously injured in incidents. Many deaths could be prevented if first aid was given before emergency services arrive.
If someone is injured you should:
Read more about what to do after an incident.
If a person is unconscious but breathing, and has no other injuries that would stop them being moved, place them in the recovery position until help arrives.
Keep them under observation to ensure they continue to breathe normally, and don't obstruct their airway.
If a person isn't breathing normally after an incident, call an ambulance and start CPR straight away. Use hands-only CPR if you aren't trained to perform rescue breaths.
Read more about CPR, including instructions and a video about hands-only CPR.
Below, in alphabetical order, are some of the most common injuries that need emergency treatment in the UK and information about how to deal with them:
Anaphylaxis (or anaphylactic shock) is a severe allergic reaction that can occur after an insect sting or after eating certain foods. The adverse reaction can be very fast, occurring within seconds or minutes of coming into contact with the substance the person is allergic to (allergen).
During anaphylactic shock, it may be difficult for the person to breathe, as their tongue and throat may swell, obstructing their airway.
Call 999 or 112 immediately if you think someone is experiencing anaphylactic shock.
Check if the person is carrying any medication. Some people who know they have severe allergies may carry an adrenaline self-injector, which is a type of pre-loaded syringe. You can either help the person administer their medication or, if you're trained to do so, give it to them yourself.
After the injection, continue to look after the person until medical help arrives. All casualties who have had an intramuscular or subcutaneous (under the skin) injection of adrenaline must be seen and medically checked by a healthcare professional as soon as possible after the injection has been given.
Make sure they're comfortable and can breathe as best they can while waiting for medical help to arrive. If they're conscious, sitting upright is normally the best position for them.
Read more about treating anaphylaxis.
If someone is bleeding heavily, the main aim is to prevent further blood loss and minimise the effects of shock (see below).
First, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance as soon as possible.
If you have disposable gloves, use them to reduce the risk of any infection being passed on.
Check that there's nothing embedded in the wound. If there is, take care not to press down on the object.
Instead, press firmly on either side of the object and build up padding around it before bandaging, to avoid putting pressure on the object itself.
If nothing is embedded:
If a body part, such as a finger, has been severed, place it in a plastic bag or wrap it in cling film and make sure it goes with the casualty to hospital.
Always seek medical help for bleeding unless it's minor.
If someone has a nosebleed that hasn't stopped after 20 minutes, go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.
In certain situations, where bleeding is very severe and from the body's extremities, such as the head, neck and torso, it may be appropriate to use haemostatic dressings or a tourniquet.
Haemostatic dressings contain properties that help the blood to clot (thicken) quicker. A tourniquet is a band that's wrapped tightly around a limb to stop blood loss. Haemostatic dressings and tourniquets should only be used by people who have been trained to apply them.
If someone has a burn or scald:
For chemical burns, wear protective gloves, remove any affected clothing, and rinse the burn with cool running water for at least 20 minutes to wash out the chemical. If possible, determine the cause of the injury.
In certain situations where a chemical is regularly handled, a specific chemical antidote may be available to use.
Be careful not to contaminate and injure yourself with the chemical, and wear protective clothing if necessary.
Call 999 or 112 for immediate medical help.
Read more about how to treat burns and scalds.
The information below is for choking in adults and children over one year old. Read what to do if a baby under one year old is choking.
If the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. In situations like this, a person will usually be able to clear the blockage themselves.
If choking is mild:
If coughing doesn't work, start back blows (see below).
If choking is severe, the person won't be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe, and without help they'll eventually become unconscious.
To help an adult or child over one year old:
Don't give abdominal thrusts to babies under one year old or to pregnant women.
To perform abdominal thrusts on a person who is severely choking and isn't in one of the above groups:
The aim is to get the obstruction out with each chest thrust, rather than necessarily doing all five.
If the person's airway is still blocked after trying back blows and abdominal thrusts:
The person choking should always be seen by a healthcare professional afterwards to check for any injuries or small pieces of the obstruction that remain.
If someone is in difficulty in water, don't enter the water to help unless it's absolutely essential.
Once the person is on land, if they're not breathing, open the airway and give five initial rescue breaths before starting CPR. If you're alone, perform CPR for one minute before calling for emergency help.
Find out how to give CPR, including rescue breaths.
If the person is unconscious but still breathing, put them into the recovery position with their head lower than their body and call an ambulance immediately.
Continue to observe the casualty to ensure they don't stop breathing or that their airway becomes obstructed.
If someone has had an electric shock, switch off the electrical current at the mains to break the contact between the person and the electrical supply.
If you can't reach the mains supply:
Afterwards, seek medical help – unless the electric shock is very minor.
It can be difficult to tell if a person has a broken bone or a joint, as opposed to a simple muscular injury. If you're in any doubt, treat the injury as a broken bone.
If the person is unconscious, has difficulty breathing or is bleeding severely, these must be dealt with first, by controlling the bleeding with direct pressure and performing CPR.
If the person is conscious, prevent any further pain or damage by keeping the fracture as still as possible until you get them safely to hospital.
Assess the injury and decide whether the best way to get them to hospital is by ambulance or car. For example, if the pain isn't too severe, you could transport them to hospital by car. It's always best to get someone else to drive, so that you can deal with the casualty if they deteriorate – for example, if they lose consciousness as a result of the pain or start to vomit.
Don't give the casualty anything to eat or drink, because they may need an anaesthetic (numbing medication) when they reach hospital.
You can read more about specific broken bones in the following pages:
A heart attack is one of the most common life-threatening heart conditions in the UK.
If you think a person is having, or has had, a heart attack, sit them down and make them as comfortable as possible, and call 999 or 112 for an ambulance.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
Sit the person down and make them comfortable.
If they're conscious, reassure them and ask them to take a 300mg aspirin tablet to chew slowly (unless you know they shouldn't take aspirin – for example, if they're under 16 or allergic to it).
If the person has any medication for angina, such as a spray or tablets, help them to take it. Monitor their vital signs, such as breathing, until help arrives.
If the person deteriorates and becomes unconscious, open their airway, check their breathing and, if necessary, start CPR. Re-alert the emergency services that the casualty is now in cardiac arrest.
Poisoning is potentially life-threatening. Most cases of poisoning in the UK happen when a person has swallowed a toxic substance, such as bleach, taken an overdose of a prescription medication, or eaten wild plants and fungi. Alcohol poisoning can cause similar symptoms.
If you think someone has swallowed a poisonous substance, call 999 or 112 to get immediate medical help and advice.
The effects of poisoning depend on the substance swallowed, but can include vomiting, loss of consciousness, pain or a burning sensation. The following advice is important:
If the person becomes unconscious while you're waiting for help to arrive, check for breathing and, if necessary, perform CPR.
Don't perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if the casualty's mouth or airway is contaminated with the poison.
Don't leave them if they're unconscious because they may roll onto their back, which could cause them to vomit. The vomit could then enter their lungs and make them choke.
If the casualty is conscious and breathing normally, put them into the recovery position and continue to monitor their conscious state and breathing.
In the case of a serious injury or illness, it's important to look out for signs of shock (see below).
Shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the circulatory system fails to provide enough oxygenated blood to the body and, as a result, deprives the vital organs of oxygen.
This is usually due to severe blood loss, but it can also occur after severe burns, severe vomiting, a heart attack, bacterial infection or a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
The type of shock described here isn't the same as the emotional response of feeling shocked, which can also occur after an accident.
Signs of shock include:
Seek medical help immediately if you notice that someone has any of the above signs of shock. If they do, you should:
The FAST guide is the most important thing to remember when dealing with people who have had a stroke. The earlier they receive treatment, the better. Call for emergency medical help straight away.
If you think a person has had a stroke, use the FAST guide:
Read more about the symptoms of a stroke.
If someone is injured in an incident, first check that you and the casualty aren't in any danger. If you are, make the situation safe.
When it's safe to do so, assess the casualty and, if necessary, dial 999 or 112 for an ambulance. You can then carry out basic first aid.
The three priorities when dealing with a casualty are commonly referred to as ABC, which stands for:
If the casualty appears unresponsive, ask them loudly if they're OK and if they can open their eyes. If they respond, you can leave them in the position they're in until help arrives. While you wait, keep checking their breathing, pulse and level of response:
If there's no response, leave the casualty in the position they're in and open their airway. If this isn't possible in the position they're in, gently lay them on their back and open their airway.
To open the airway, place one hand on the casualty’s forehead and gently tilt their head back, lifting the tip of the chin using two fingers. This moves the tongue away from the back of the throat. Don't push on the floor of the mouth, as this will push the tongue upwards and obstruct the airway.
If you think the person may have a spinal injury, place your hands on either side of their head and use your fingertips to gently lift the angle of the jaw forward and upwards, without moving the head, to open the airway. Take care not to move the casualty’s neck. However, opening the airway takes priority over a neck injury. This is known as the jaw thrust technique.
To check if a person is still breathing:
If they're breathing normally, place them in the recovery position so their airway remains clear of obstructions and continue to monitor normal breathing. Gasping or irregular breathing is not normal breathing.
If the casualty isn't breathing, call 999 or 112 for an ambulance and then begin CPR.
If the casualty isn't breathing normally, then you must start chest compressions immediately.
Agonal breathing is common in the first few minutes after a sudden cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating). Agonal breathing is sudden, irregular gasps of breath. This shouldn't be mistaken for normal breathing and CPR should be given straight away.
This page provides information and guidance about hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and CPR with rescue breaths.
To carry out a chest compression:
When you call for an ambulance, telephone systems now exist that can give basic life-saving instructions, including advice about CPR. These are now common and are easily accessible with mobile phones.
If you’ve been trained in CPR, including rescue breaths, and feel confident using your skills, you should give chest compressions with rescue breaths. If you're not completely confident, attempt hands-only CPR instead (see above).
If a person is unconscious but is breathing and has no other life-threatening conditions, they should be placed in the recovery position.
Putting someone in the recovery position will keep their airway clear and open. It also ensures that any vomit or fluid won't cause them to choke.
The video on this page shows a step-by-step guide to putting someone in the recovery position.
Or you can follow these steps:
If you think a person may have a spinal injury, don't attempt to move them until the emergency services reach you.
If it's necessary to open their airway, place your hands on either side of their head and gently lift their jaw with your fingertips to open the airway. Take care not to move their neck.
You should suspect a spinal injury if the person: