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Refresher: How to respond to a serious head injury if it happens in front of you.

first aid for head injuries
“Get help as quick as you can,” St John Ambulance advises.

The nation is collectively holding its breath waiting for news on injured cricketer Phillip Hughes, 25, who is in hospital fighting for his life after being struck in the head by a ball at the Sydney Cricket Ground yesterday.

Hughes underwent emergency surgery last night and was placed in an induced coma.

Here in the Mamamia office, the shocking incident got us talking about what we’re all like in a crisis. Are you the person who panics? Are you the concerned onlooker? Or are you the person who bounds in to help — and potentially saves a life?

Knowing a few first aid basics could help you increase someone’s chance of survival. So to give you a little more confidence, we talked to an expert about what a head injury means — and what you can do if you’re ever faced with how to react with one.

first aid for head injuries
Phillip Hughes of South Australia after being struck in the head yesterday in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Commissioner of St John Ambulance NSW, Didier Moutia, told Mamamia that “head injuries happen most frequently out of sport: motor vehicle accidents, motorbike accidents (and even on) “skateboards and bikes and those kind of things”.

The potential consequences can be serious, he says, since “the brain’s reasonably fragile, and any direct impact or damage to the head can result in —  obviously the worst case scenario is death, but also complications related to movement and speech.

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“So people can have long-term effects and not just short-term can have quite a long road ahead of them in terms of recovery,” he said.

Without further ado, here’s what to do in the event of a head injury:

1. Call 000 immediately.

If you see a head injury happen before you, Mr Moutia says, “it’s always important to always err on the side of caution.”

“If you’re at all concerned then you should do something as quick as possible,” he says.

“The quicker you do something, that can have an effect on the consequences.

“If you think (the injury) is significant, and obviously it’s something serious, then get help as quick as you can.”

2. Put the patient in an appropriate position.

“If they’re conscious, the best thing to do is place them in an comfortable position, try to keep their head and shoulders elevated and try to comfort them,” he says. “If there’s bleeding associated, apply a bandage to it but not necessarily direct pressure.”

You should also comfort the person and provide reassurance, he says.

“If they’re unconcious, what we do is put them in the recovery position, protect their airway by just tilting their head back a bit and monitor their breathing.”

first aid for head injuries
The old helmet profile, compared to the profile of the newer helmet models available. It’s been reported Phillip Hughes was wearing the older style helmet when he sustained the head injury yesterday.

Once they’re in position, “you don’t want them moving” any further due to the risk of spinal injury, he says.

As St John Ambulance UK adds on its website: “Any casualty with an injury to the head should be assumed to have a neck (spinal) injury as well and be treated accordingly.”

3. Commence CPR if you need to.

“In the worst-case scenario — if the patient is not breathing — commence CPR,” he says.

Continue CPR until help arrives. But if you can’t remember those steps at the scene, fear not: 000 emergency services will talk you through the steps on the phone.

Five First Aid myths…

While we’re on the topic of first aid, we also thought we’d revive our previous post that busts five common first aid myths.

These tips were prepared with the help of representatives from St John Ambulance Australia.

1. Fainting

The Myth: Place the patient’s head between their knees.

The reality: Fainting is the body’s way of telling you to lie down naturally.  So if someone faints, allow them to lie down. Don’t sit the person up because they can become unconscious and if their head tilts forward they can stop breathing.  St John recommends that you lay the person down on their side if they’re unconscious and then when they’re conscious turn them onto their back and raise and support their legs.

2. Burns

The Myth: Slather on butter or toothpaste or aloe vera gel.

The reality: The best first aid for burns is water and plenty of it. Do not use butter, lotions, creams or oils on a burn and don’t remove anything that is sticking to the burn. To avoid scarring and long healing times, St John recommends placing the burn part under cold running water until it returns to normal temperature, usually about 20 minutes. An acceptable improvisation on a non-stick dressing is to use cling wrap over the wound.

3.  Seizures and fits

The Myth: Place something hard between the patient’s jaws to stop them swallowing their tongue.

The reality: When someone is having a seizure it’s not actually possible for people to swallow their own tongue. The only thing you will achieve by putting fingers in their mouth is an amputated finger – or maybe a hand full of vomit. St John recommends that you let the person have their seizure in peace. Prevent intervention by well-meaning onlookers and place something under their head for protection (a jumper or jacket is ideal as it will stop any facial abrasions or head injuries).

4. People seriously injured in a car accident

The myth: Move the victim away from the scene

The reality: Don’t move unless absolutely necessary, it is potentially more damaging

People often think they should move a person out of a wreck and lay them down nicely for ambulance officer.   St John recommends NOT to move the person unless there is a danger of, for example, the car exploding which is actually very rare.

5. Choking

The myth: Carry out the Heimlich Manoeuver immediately.

The reality: Encourage the person to relax and cough. People still believe in the Heimlich maneuver, but it can cause damage.  St John recommends that you encourage the person to relax and cough in the first instance and if this is not successful at dislodging the stuck item lay the patient across your legs towards the ground and hit them hard between the shoulder blades.

NOTE: Mamamia posts do not purport to provide medical analysis or consultation.  If you have any concerns or queries please consult your doctor or if you find yourself in the company of a person who needs medical attention, call an ambulance!

You can visit the St Johns website here. Its Provide First Aid covers management of the most common injuries; it also runs an Introduction to Sports First Aid course.

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