From time to time, we all find ourselves playing doctor and treating minor injuries at home, but how can you know when you're in over your head? While your condition might not warrant a trip to the Emergency Room, mistreating it could do more harm than good.
Matthew Thompson, MD, is an emergency medicine physician at Baptist Health and co-founder of Telescope Health, which powers Baptist HealthPlace On Demand. The app allows you to talk with trusted local emergency and family physicians around-the-clock without ever leaving your home.
Dr. Thompson outlined some of the common minor first aid mistakes he sees, explained how to fix them, and when to see the professionals.
Mistake 1: Using home remedies
The internet is full of at-home treatment options. Dr. Thompson said he has seen everything from honey to garlic used to sanitize open wounds. While this might seem like an "age-old" quick fix, he revealed that using anything other than regular soap and water, over-the-counter ointments or prescribed topical antibiotics could actually increase the risk of infection.
What to do instead:
Run the affected area under warm water to help clean the wound. If you choose to apply an ointment, be sure it is an antibiotic one such as Neosporin™ and keep it covered with a dry bandage. Doing so will help prevent infection and ensure healthy healing.
Mistake 2: Waiting too long
A big part of treating your own injury is determining when it's too much to handle on your own. Dr. Thompson warned waiting it out can lead to more problems.
"Often, I will see people come in to the Emergency Department too late for a cut or wound," he said. "Some wait until the next day, and at that point, they're frustrated because I can't suture the wound. This often means the scar formation is going to be worse, it's going to take longer to heal, and there's an increased risk for infection."
What to do instead:
"Trust your gut. If you have a deep cut and you think it needs to be looked at, always get it evaluated as quickly as possible," said Dr. Thompson. "The chance of us being able to repair it with a good cosmetic and functional outcome is much better the sooner we can see it."
Mistake 3: Applying heat at first instead of cold
It can be hard to tell whether you need to apply heat to an injured area or cool it down. Dr. Thompson said one common mistake people make when treating a sprained ankle or wrist is applying heat to the injury right away, which will actually make the inflammation much worse. After the first 24 hours, though, alternating ice and heat for comfort is completely acceptable.
What to do instead:
"We recommend something called R.I.C.E. therapy: rest, ice, compression and elevation," said Dr. Thompson.
Rest is essential. You'll want to minimize the injury you sustained and give the sprain time to heal.
Ice is a natural anti-inflammatory, which helps decrease swelling. Wrap ice or a cold compress in a light towel and apply it to the sprain right away.
Compression achieved by wrapping the injury will help prevent swelling by keeping fluid from pooling.
Elevation of the injured area also keeps fluids from pooling and helps to minimize swelling.
Get help at home
If you're unsure how to treat a condition or simply have questions for a professional, Dr. Thompson recommended scheduling a visit with Baptist HealthPlace On Demand.
"This service is really putting an emergency physician at your fingertip. We have people who call in all the time for anything from prescription refills and questions about minor injuries to those experiencing serious symptoms and looking for advice on what they should do next," said Dr. Thompson. "We can help answer any of those questions and if you do need a greater level of care, we can help arrange that and will be there for you throughout that whole process."
If you have questions or concerns about your personal health, make an appointment with a Baptist Primary Care physician near you by calling 904.202.4YOU or filling out this form. If you're looking to connect online with a trusted local doctor any time, 24/7, get started with Baptist HealthPlace On Demand.