Could you save your own life? Here’s the self first aid tips everyone should know

In an emergency, sometimes there isn’t enough time to wait for the ambulance arrives – immediately action needs to be taken, otherwise there could be dire consequences.

So when push comes to shove, do you know how to save your own life? What would you do if you started to choke? Or if you cut yourself badly? Or your heart was in extreme pain?

These are all things that can be helped by professionals but when ambulances take 8-10 minutes to arrive on average, and more in rural areas, it can be the difference between life and death if you don’t know self first aid.

Your actions are the most important factor in an emergency and emergency responders agree, the first 10 minutes are the most crucial.



When you get something caught in your throat, you immediately panic. Next, you start coughing, and in most cases this should work, but if it doesn’t, try to stay as calm as possible.

  • If you’re really choking, you can perform a sort of Heimlich manoeuvre on yourself. Put your hand just above your belly button and place the other hand on top for support. Push really hard, in short, sharp thrusts, five times.
  • Try it on the back of a chair by leading over and holding, thrusting your upper belly against the top edge using short, sharp motions.



When you cut yourself badly, the blood can start to gush out, and this is when you need to act immediately.

  • Grip the wound as firmly as you can with any fabric you can find.
  • Apply pressure directly to the wound and raise it to the level of the heart to reduce the blood flow to the affected area.
  • If it’s your leg that is bleeding, lie down and lift up your leg to get it above the heart.
  • Do not try applying a tourniquet to stop bleeding.
  • Never try to remove anything that is in a wound. Simply leave it where it is because it may be forming a plug. Wait until the ambulance comes as they can remove it safely and with proper equipment.



Burns are so painful and shocking when they occur, but it is important to give first aid to yourself immediately. The tissue damage that has been caused can worsen extremely fast.

  • Rinse the area under cold running water until the ambulance arrives
  • Do not apply any creams or anything that covers the area, except water
  • If there is any clothing surrounding the burn, remove it. But if something is already stuck to the burn, DO NOT remove it.


Severed body part

If you have a terrible accident and severe a body part, the priority is to treat the site using pressure and a clean towel.

  • Hold the bleeding limb above your head to help stem the blood flow faster
  • Rinse the severed part, then wrap in a paper towel and put it in a small clear bag of ice
  • It is crucial to take the body part to the hospital with you so it can be reattached and have the best chance of rehabilitation
  • Note the time the injury occurred to tell hospital surgeons


Heart and chest pain

If you have excruciating chest pain, call 000 immediately.

  • After you get off the phone, chew an aspirin tablet and lie down
  • Try and take deep breaths to help to get oxygen into the lungs more efficiently and keep blood circulating normally
  • Try massaging one of the carotid arteries in neck at the spot where you often feel a pulse. Rub in a circular motion to slow down the heart rate and blood pressure


Insect stings

Those who are highly allergic to insect stings should have an Epipen however if this is not on hand or you have been bitten in your mouth or throat, there is a small window of time you have as your throat can close over.

  • Suck on ice cubes whilst waiting for an ambulance
  • Breathe naturally and try not to panic



If you think you have taken too much of your medication or accidentally swallowed something harmful, you need to take action straight away.

  • Despite what some may suggest, do not drink large quantities of water in an attempt to flush it out of your system.
  • Take note of what was taken and when, and breathe calmly until the ambulance arrives.


Snake or spider bite

The pressure-immobilisation first aid technique is currently recommended for most life threatening venomous bites and stings in Australia. Its purpose is to slow the movement of venom from the bite site into the circulation, thus “buying time” for the patient to reach medical care.

Pressure-immobilisation is recommended for:

  • all species of Australian snakes, including sea snakes
  • funnel web spiders
  • blue ringed octopus
  • cone shell stings

Do not use pressure-immobilisation first aid for:

  • spider bites other than from a funnel web spider
  • jelly fish stings
  • stonefish and other fish stings
  • bites by scorpions, centipedes, beetles

Bites to the lower limb

  1. Call 000 for an ambulance
  2. Apply a broad pressure bandage over the bite site as soon as possible. Crepe bandages are ideal, but any flexible material may be used. Clothing, towels etc may be torn into strips. Panty hose have been successfully used.
  3. Do not take clothing off as the movement of doing so will promote the movement of venom into the blood stream. Keep the patient (and the bitten or stung limb) still.
  4. Bandage upwards from the lower portion of the bitten or stung limb. Even though a little venom may be squeezed upwards, the bandage will be more comfortable, and therefore can be left in place for longer if required.
  5. The bandage should be as tight as you would apply to a sprained ankle.
  6. Extend the bandage as high as possible up the limb.
  7. Apply a splint to the leg. Any rigid object may be used as a splint. e.g. spade, piece of wood or tree branch, rolled up newspapers etc.
  8. Bind it firmly to as much of the leg as possible.
  9. Keep the patient still. Lie the patient down to prevent walking or moving around. Have the patient taken immediately by ambulance to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

Bites to the hand or forearm

  1. Call 000 for an ambulance
  2. Bandage as much of the arm as possible, starting at the fingers
  3. Use a splint to the elbow
  4. Use a sling to immobilise the arm
  5. Keep the patient still. Lie the patient down to prevent walking or moving around. Have the patient taken immediately by ambulance to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

Bites to the trunk

  1. Call 000 for an ambulance
  2. If possible apply firm pressure over the bitten or stung area. Do not restrict chest movement. Keep the patient still. Have the patient taken immediately by ambulance to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

Bites to the head or neck

  1. Call 000 for an ambulance
  2. No first aid for bitten or stung area. Keep the patient still. Have the patient taken immediately by ambulance to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

Additional information:

  • Research stresses the importance of keeping the patient still. This includes all the limbs.
  • Do NOT cut or excise the bitten or stung area
  • Do NOT apply an arterial tourniquet. (Arterial tourniquets, which cut off the circulation to the limb, are potentially dangerous, and are no longer recommended for any type of bite or sting in Australia.)
  • Do NOT wash the bitten or stung area. The type of snake involved may be identified by the detection of venom on the skin.
  • Note: Even if the bitten or stung person is ill when first seen, the application of pressure-immobilisation first aid may prevent further absorption of venom from the bite or sting site during transport to hospital.
  • If the bandages and splint have been applied correctly, they will be comfortable and may be left on for several hours. They should not be taken off until the patient has reached medical care.
  • The treating doctor will decide when to remove the bandages. If a significant amount of venom has been injected, it may move into the blood stream very quickly when the bandages are removed. They should be left in position until appropriate antivenom and resuscitation equipment has been assembled.
  • Bandages may be quickly reapplied if clinical deterioration occurs, and left on until antivenom therapy has been effective.


Have you ever had to save your own life?

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