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How to Avoid First-Aid Mistakes

Blunder: Removing anything larger than a splinter from your child's skin

Why it's wrong: Shards of glass, a pencil point, or other sharp objects could end up causing more damage coming out of the skin than they did going in  -- they could deepen the wound or pierce a vein.

Best approach: Have the object removed by a doctor.

Blunder: Applying meat tenderizer to bee stings

Why it's wrong: Meat tenderizer can irritate the skin, especially around the stung area.

Best approach: Rub the edge of a clean credit card over the skin to flick out the stinger. Wash the area with cool water and soap; cover it with a sterile bandage. That's all that's necessary, but monitor your child for an allergic reaction over the next several hours. If he has excessive redness and swelling near the area of the sting, or a hivelike rash all over his body, he may be experiencing a significant allergic reaction  -- call the doctor immediately. If he has trouble breathing, including wheezing or shallow breaths, call 911.

Blunder: Not putting ice on an injury right away

Why it's wrong: Applying cold quickly to a muscle strain or insect sting can keep swelling and pain to a minimum. (But don't apply ice directly to the skin  -- it can produce a burning sensation.)

Best approach: Put a handful of ice cubes in a plastic bag, then wrap in a washcloth or dish towel. Apply to the injury for about 15 minutes.

Blunder: Putting butter on a burn

Why it's wrong: Butter acts as a sealant on the skin, holding in heat and worsening the burn; it also increases the risk of infection.

Best approach: Run the burn under cool water for about one minute or hold a cool compress to it. Apply an antibacterial lotion (bacitracin, Neosporin) to prevent infection. Cover the area with a dry, sterile bandage. Call the doctor.

Blunder: Cleaning out cuts with peroxide or rubbing alcohol

Why it's wrong: When these are applied to an open wound, the sting can be severe.

Best approach: Clean the cut with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and put on a bandage.

Blunder: Moving a child who's fallen on his head, neck, or back from anything higher than his height

Why it's wrong: If the spine has been injured, you can further damage it.

Best approach: If your child is in pain or unconscious, call 911 immediately. See that you keep him very still. Even if he stands up and walks around, call your doctor; children with serious injuries, such as a broken collarbone, can sometimes walk around for days without knowing there's a problem.

Blunder: Wiping debris, such as sand, grit, or dirt, out of your child's eye

Why it's wrong: You could scrape it across your child's eye and scratch the cornea.

Best approach: Flush out the eye with cool water, making sure that his head is tilted so that the affected eye is lower and the debris doesn't wash into the unaffected eye. If debris remains inside, or if he experiences any pain, redness, swelling, or discharge from the eye, call your pediatrician right away.

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