Basic First Aid for 9 Common Injuries

What do you get when you combine the great outdoors, sunny skies, and free time? Fun, for sure. But also cuts, scrapes, sprains, or worse. Here, your ultimate guide to managing the most common medical mishaps that come along with summer.

Photo by Levi Brown

Ouch! I Just Tripped and Rolled Over My Ankle

If you’re still able to walk, albeit a bit uncomfortably, then relax: It’s not a fracture but simply a sprain. That means a ligament has been stretched or, in more severe cases, torn. About 65 to 75 percent of ankle injuries fall into this category, says David A. Porter, M.D., Ph.D., an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon at Methodist Sports Medicine, in Indianapolis. Reduce any swelling as soon as possible with RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation (recline on a chair and raise your ankle to above hip level). Ice in 10- to 20-minute intervals, with 10-minute breaks in between, for a few hours. Continue RICE intermittently (or whenever you feel pain) for the next few days, and wear only sneakers. The soreness and swelling should go away within a week or at most four weeks. (During this time, the doctor may send you for physical therapy.) If your ankle swells dramatically within the first hour after the injury (for instance, it may look as if a golf ball—size lump is lodged under your skin, or the entire ankle area may be puffy and purple) and you find it almost impossible to walk, you may have a more serious sprain or fracture. See your doctor within 48 hours. He may prescribe physical therapy and outfit you with a walking boot or a brace or, in the case of a broken bone, recommend surgery or a cast.

The Mosquito Bite That I Got the Other Day Is Red and Painful

You’ve been scratching it, right? When you do that, you can break the skin on the bite, allowing bacteria from your fingernails or the environment to cause an infection, says Jeffrey Pellegrino, Ph.D., a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. Fortunately, unless you’re in the tropics, it’s unlikely to be malaria or yellow fever. Keep the bite clean by washing it once or twice a day with soap and water; the irritation should clear up in a few days. See a doctor if you contract flu-like symptoms (a possible, though still not probable, sign of a mosquito-borne illness) or if the red area gets bigger (a potential symptom of a more serious skin infection requiring antibiotic treatment). To tell definitively if the area has become enlarged, trace its periphery with a ballpoint pen at the first sign of irritation. That way, you will be able to tell if it really grows.

I Was Slicing a Watermelon and Cut My Hand With the Knife

Resist your natural instinct to rinse the open cut under running water immediately. Washing a still bleeding gash will flush away natural clotting agents in the blood and cause it to gush even more. (The same rule does not apply to minor cuts that are smaller than an inch long.) Instead, grab a gauze pad or a clean dish towel and apply hard pressure to the gash for 10 minutes, which should be enough time to stop the bleeding. Then hold your hand under running water for 10 minutes. Keep it bandaged with gauze and tape until it heals. If you take blood thinners (such as daily aspirin or warfarin) and can’t control the bleeding, or if the cut is gaping open more than half an inch, you may need a few stitches. Keep pressure on the wound and head to the ER.

My Friend Got Hit in the Head With a Baseball

Baseball, soccer ball, lacrosse stick. The rule is the same for all head traumas: If the person is vomiting, too dizzy to walk, or unconscious for any period of time, take him to the ER to determine the need for medical tests that check for internal bleeding or other significant injury, says Howard Mell, M.D., a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians and a former paramedic. Even if the person is walking and talking just fine, he should sit out the rest of the game. Watch him for signs of headache, confusion, blurry vision, irritability, memory loss, sensitivity to light or noise, and sleepiness, says Nick Wetjen, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota: “You can be awake and still have a concussion.”

Continue monitoring your friend for three weeks, in case he has a post-concussive disorder, says Mell. The symptoms resemble those of a regular concussion but may not show up for 24 to 72 hours and typically continue for several weeks.