Ultimate guide to family first aid – from nosebleeds to burns and poisonings

Brits can be ready for a whole range of health scenarios with these tips on ways to handle health problems – from a minor issue to a major crisis.


A nosebleed can be alarming but it’s only dangerous if a great deal of blood is lost.

1. Ask the person to sit down and tip their head forward. They should pinch their nose below the bridge and breathe through their mouth.

2. Give them a tissue to mop up blood and wait for 10 minutes. If bleeding continues, repeat the procedure. If it still hasn’t stopped after 30 minutes, get medical help.

Object in the ear or nose

Small children are most likely to suffer from this problem as they can push tiny objects into their nose or ear. However, this can affect adults too.

1. Nose: Small objects can cause infection and blockage. Do not try to remove it, instead encourage the person to breathe through their mouth and go to A&E.

2. Ear: This can cause temporary deafness so don’t try to remove anything yourself. However, if an insect has crawled or flown into someone’s ear, try gently pouring clean, tepid water into the ear to wash the insect out. If this doesn’t work, take them to A&E.


Most homes contain dangerous substances such as detergents and bleach, prescription medication and poisonous plants.

1. Household poison: If someone swallows bleach or detergent, never induce vomiting. If they’re unconscious, check the airway is open and be prepared to resuscitate (see Resuscitation, below). Call an ambulance. If the person is conscious, give them sips of water or milk to soothe burns in the mouth.

2. Medication or drugs: Don’t induce vomiting as this will make matters worse. If unconscious, follow instructions above. Phone an ambulance. If the person has vomited, keep a sample so it can be tested to identify what the drug was. Look for empty medication bottles and take them with you to the hospital.

3. Plants: Same as above but try to find out which plant has been swallowed so you can inform the paramedic.


Knowing what to do in an emergency and being able to react calmly can save lives.

1. Remember the ABC of resuscitation – airway, breathing, circulation. Open the airway by tilting the head back and lifting the chin. Check for breathing by looking at the chest and listening for sounds. Look for evidence of circulation, for example breathing, movement, coughing and a healthy skin colour.

2. If they’re not breathing, chest compressions are needed. Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone in the middle of the chest. Put your other hand on top and interlock your fingers. Using your bodyweight, press down by about 5cm. Release the compression and repeat 100 to 120 times a minute until the ambulance arrives.


A seizure occurs when brain function is disturbed, leading to involuntary muscle contraction. There are many causes including epilepsy, head injury and shortage of oxygen to the brain.

1. Adult: If the person has fallen, clear a space and ask people to stand back. Loosen clothing and put something under the head. Don’t try to put anything into their mouth or force teeth apart if clenched. Once the seizure has stopped, put them in the recovery position, (lying them on their side, with one knee bent up at 90 degrees in front of them so they can’t roll back or forwards) check breathing, pulse and response. Stay with the person and call for medical help.

2. Child: Babies and small children are prone to seizures when they have a high fever, known as febrile convulsions. Stay calm and put pillows around the child so they won’t hurt themselves. Take your child to the nearest hospital or dial 999 for an ambulance if your child is having a fit for the first time or the seizure lasts longer than five minutes and shows no signs of stopping.


The average body temperature for an adult is 37ºC. A raised temperature is usually caused by a viral infection, such as flu, or a bacterial infection, such as bronchitis.

1. 37-38ºC: Almost normal, try paracetamol and call 
a doctor if there’s no improvement within 
24 hours.

2. 38-39ºC: Definitely something wrong but not too serious. Same advice as above.

3. 39-40ºC: Could be a serious infection. It’s time to call a doctor.

4. 40ºC+: Very serious, call a doctor immediately, or go to A&E.


Loss of consciousness occurs when the brain’s normal electrical activity is interrupted.

This can happen for many reasons including low blood sugar, low blood pressure, epilepsy, or if there has been a head injury.

1. Open the airway by placing the head back and lifting up the chin. Check breathing and the person’s circulation.

2. Examine the person for injuries, without moving them unnecessarily.

3. Check response level. Can they open their eyes, obey commands or respond to a pinch or when you say their name?

4. Even if the person regains full consciousness and remains well, they should see a doctor as soon as possible. If their condition deteriorates, call an ambulance.

Vision problems

Blurred vision can be caused by many different health issues.

1. Migraine: Blurred vision followed by a severe headache. Take painkillers, see your GP.

2. Loss of vision: Loss of part of the visual field with vertigo, pins and needles or muscle stiffness could be multiple sclerosis. See a doctor.

3. Sudden onset: In an older person this can be a sign of retinal detachment so see a doctor or ophthalmologist urgently.

Wheezing and asthma

Struggling to breathe could be the onset of an asthma attack. This happens when the muscles of the air passages go into spasm and linings of the airways swell.

1. Keep calm and reassure the person. Ask them to use their blue reliever inhaler (not their brown preventer one) if they have it and help them if needs be.

2. Encourage them to get into a position that is comfortable and to breathe slowly and deeply. Do not make them lie down if they don’t want to.

3. If the attack is mild and eases in five to 10 minutes, ask the person to use their reliever inhaler again. Immediate medical help isn’t vital but they should tell their doctor about the attack.

4. If the attack is severe and the breathlessness makes talking difficult, call an ambulance. 
Help the person use their reliever inhaler every five to 10 minutes.

X marks the spot

Rashes can occur for many different reasons and most of the time they aren’t serious. However, a rash which is dark red or purple and doesn’t fade under pressure is a sign of blood poisoning caused by meningitis – an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord – and it can be deadly. However, it is easy to test for as it doesn’t disappear under pressure.

1. The best way to check a rash is to press a clear glass against it. If the rash is still visible through the glass, seek medical advice immediately.

2. The rash can be harder to see on dark skin. Check for spots on paler areas like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, the tummy, inside the eyelids, and the roof of the mouth.

3. Look out for other symptoms, including a severe headache, fever, stiff neck or an aversion to bright light.

Zapped by electricity

If someone is the victim of an electric shock and is still connected to the supply, do not touch them or you’ll receive a shock too.

1. Switch off current at the mains. Stand on dry insulating material, such as a magazine or newspaper, to protect yourself.

2. Use something made of non-conductive material, such as wood or rubber, to push the victim away from the source of the current. A wooden broom is a good choice but avoid anything metal or wet.

3. Dial 999 and follow instructions from the emergency services.