Common accidents and emergencies

Below, in alphabetical order, are some of the most common injuries needing emergency treatment in the UK and information on how to deal with them.

allergies

An allergy is an adverse reaction that the body has to a particular food or substance in the environment. Most substances that cause allergies are not harmful and have no effect on people who are not allergic.

The allergic response

Any substance that triggers an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Some of the most common allergens include:

  • Grass and tree pollen (hay fever)
  • Dust mites
  • Animal dander (tiny flakes of skin or hair)
  • Food allergy (particularly fruits, shellfish and nuts)

An allergy develops when the body’s immune system reacts to an allergen as though it is a threat, like an infection. It produces antibodies to fight off the allergen, in a reaction called the "immune response"
The next time a person comes into contact with the allergen, the body "remembers" the previous exposure and produces more of the antibodies. This causes the release of chemicals in the body that lead to an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of an allergy can include sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes, skin rashes and swelling.
The nature of the symptoms depend on the allergen. For example, you may experience problems with your airways if you breathe in pollen. If you think you have an allergy, see your GP.
Depending on your symptoms, the condition of your skin and any medication you are taking, you may be offered further tests to identify the allergen.

How common are allergies?

Allergies are very common. According to Allergy UK, one in four people in the UK suffers from an allergy at some point in their lives. The numbers are increasing every year and up to half of those affected are children. The reason for the rise is unclear. Some experts believe it is associated with pollution. Another theory is that allergies are caused by living in a cleaner, germ-free environment, which reduces the number of germs our immune system has to deal with. This causes it to overreact when it comes into contact with harmless substances.

Managing an allergy

In some cases, the most effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid all contact with the allergen causing the reaction. There are also several medications available to help control the common symptoms of many allergies. Always seek medical advice if you develop an allergy that causes serious side effects or that inhibits your daily life.

Allergy Care at SMC

If you develop an allergy at school the Health Care Team will be alerted immediately and thoroughly assess your child’s symptoms. We will offer all cares so that they are able to stay in school. We will also communicate with an adult with parental responsibility and offer support in terms of medication, reassurance and seeking further medical assistance if required.
If you have an Epipen to manage your allergy we request that you give two of these to the Health Care Team who will lock them away in the school’s medicine cabinet. We will also support our students who use these by offering information from -http://www.epipen.co.uk/
If you have any queries regarding allergies or any medical needs please contact the Health Care Team via the main reception.

anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis (or anaphylactic shock) is a severe allergic reaction that can occur after an insect sting or after a person eats certain foods, for example. The reaction can be very fast, happening within seconds or minutes of contact with the thing a person is allergic to.

During anaphylactic shock, a person may find it difficult to breathe and their tongue and throat may also swell, obstructing their airway.

If you suspect a person is experiencing anaphylactic shock, call 999 or 112 straight away.

Check if the person is carrying any medication. Some people who know they have severe allergies may carry epinephrine on them. This is a kind of adrenaline and usually comes in a pre-loaded syringe. You can either help the person administer their medication or, if you're trained to do so, give it to them yourself.

Make sure they are comfortable and can breathe as best they can while waiting for medical help to arrive. If they are conscious, sitting upright is normally the best position for them.

Read more about treating anaphylaxis.

 

burns and scalds

In the event of a burn or scald:

  • Cool the burn as quickly as possible with cold (but not ice-cold) running water for a minimum of 10 minutes or until the pain is relieved.
  • Call 999 or seek medical help if necessary.
  • While cooling the burn, carefully remove any clothing or jewellery, unless it is attached to the skin.
  • Keep the person warm using a blanket or layers of clothing (avoiding the injured area) to prevent hypothermia. This is a risk if you are cooling a large burnt area, particularly in babies, children and elderly people. 
  • Cover the burn lengthways with strips of cling film or a clean plastic bag if the burn is on a hand or foot. If no plastic film is available, use a sterile dressing or non-fluffy material.
  • Do not put creams, lotions or sprays on the burn.
  • If appropriate, raise the limb to reduce the swelling and offer pain relief. 

For chemical burns, wear protective gloves, remove any clothing affected, brush the chemical off the skin if it is a powder and rinse the burn with cold running water for a minimum of 20 minutes. If possible, determine what has caused the injury.

Be careful not to injure yourself, and wear protective clothing if necessary. Call 999 or 112 and arrange immediate medical attention.

Read more information about how to treat burns and scalds.

bleeding

If someone has severe bleeding, the main aim is to prevent further loss of blood and minimise the effects of shock (see below).

First, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance as soon as possible.

If you have disposable gloves, then use them to reduce the risk of any infection being passed on.

Check that there is nothing embedded in the wound. If there is, take care not to press down on the object. Instead, press firmly on either side of the object and build up padding around it before bandaging to avoid putting pressure on the object itself. If there is nothing embedded:

  • Apply and maintain pressure to the wound with your hand, using a clean pad if possible.
  • Use a clean dressing to bandage the wound firmly.
  • If the wound is on a limb and there are no fractures, raise the limb to decrease the flow of blood. 

If a body part has been severed, such as a finger, do not put it in direct contact with ice. Wrap it in a plastic bag or cling film, then wrap it in a soft material and keep it cool. Once it is wrapped, if possible, place the severed body part in crushed ice.

Always seek medical help for the bleeding unless it is minor. If someone has a nosebleed that has not stopped after 20 minutes, go to the nearest hospital's accident and emergency department (A&E).

Read more information on:

choking

The information below is for choking in adults and children over one year old. Read information about what to do if a baby under one year old is choking.

If the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. In situations like this, a person will usually be able to clear the blockage themselves. If choking is mild:

  • Encourage the person to continue coughing to try to clear the blockage.
  • Remove any obvious obstruction from the mouth using your first two fingers and thumb. 
If the obstruction is severe and the person is struggling to breathe, give up to five back blows (between the shoulder blades), using the heel of your hand. Carefully check the mouth and, if possible, remove any obstruction after every blow.

If this does not clear the obstruction, perform abdominal thrusts by following the steps below. This technique should not be used on babies under one year old, pregnant women or people who are obese:

  • Stand behind the person who is choking.
  • Place your arms around their waist and bend them well forward.
  • Clench one first and place it just above the person's belly button and below the breastbone.
  • Place your other hand on top, then pull sharply inwards and upwards.
  • Repeat this up to five times until the object stuck in their throat comes out of their mouth. 

The aim is to get the obstruction out with each chest thrust rather than necessarily doing all five. If the obstruction does not clear after three cycles of back blows and chest thrusts, dial 999 or 112 for an ambulance and continue until help arrives.

The person choking should always be checked over by a health professional afterwards to check for any injuries caused by abdominal thrusts or any smaller pieces of the obstruction that remain.

Read more information about what to do if someone is choking.

drowning

Once the person is on land, if they are not breathing, give five initial rescue breaths before starting CPR. If you are alone, perform CPR for one minute before calling for emergency help.

Find out how to give CPR, including rescue breaths.

If the person is unconscious but still breathing, put them in the recovery position with their head lower than their body to allow water to drain out, and call an ambulance immediately.

electricity

If someone has been electrocuted, dial 999 or 112 for an ambulance.

Switch off the electrical current at the mains to break the contact between the person and the electrical supply.

If you cannot reach the mains supply:

  • Protect yourself by standing on some insulating material (such as a phone book).
  • Using something dry and non-metal, such as a wooden broom handle, push the person away from the electrical source, or move the source away from the person if this is easier.
  • Do not go near or touch the person until you are sure any electrical supply has been cut off.
  • If the person is not breathing, carry out CPR and call an ambulance. 

Always seek medical help unless the shock is very minor.

fractures

It can be difficult to tell if a person has a broken bone, or a joint or muscle injury. If you're in any doubt, treat the injury as a broken bone.

If the person is unconscious, has difficulty breathing or is bleeding severely, these should be dealt with first.

If the person is conscious, prevent any further injury by keeping them still until you get them safely to hospital. Assess the injury and decide the best way to get them to hospital. If they have a broken finger or arm, you may be able to drive them yourself without causing more harm. If they have a broken spine or leg, call for an ambulance.

  • Support the limb. Do not move the person but keep them in the position you found them in. Support the injured part with anything you have handy, for example rolled up blankets or clothes.
  • Get them to hospital, either by driving them yourself (if they have a minor fracture) or call for an ambulance.
  • Look out for signs of shock. If the person is pale, cold and clammy, has a weak pulse and rapid shallow breathing, they are probably in shock (see below).    

If you think that the person may have shock, lie them down and loosen any tight clothing. Do not raise an injured leg. Otherwise, if their injuries allow, raise their legs above the level of their heart by placing something suitable under their feet such as blankets or cushions.

Do not give the person anything to eat or drink as they may need a general anaesthetic when they reach hospital.

Read more information about specific broken bones: 

heart attack

A heart attacks is one of the most common life-threatening heart conditions in the UK.

If you think a person is having or has had a heart attack, make them as comfortable as possible and call 999 or 112 for an ambulance. Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain – the pain is usually located in the centre of the chest and can feel like a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing
  • Pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is travelling from the chest to one or both arms, jaw, neck, back or abdomen 

Sit the person down, if possible in the "W" position (sitting up with the knees bent).

If they are conscious, reassure them and give them a 300mg aspirin tablet to chew slowly (unless there is any reason not to give them aspirin, for example if they are under 16 or allergic to it). If the person has any medication for angina, such as a spray or tablets, help them to take it. Monitor their vital signs, such as breathing, until help arrives.

If the person becomes unconscious, open their airway, check their breathing and, if necessary, start CPR.

poisoning

Being poisoned is potentially life threatening. Most cases of poisoning in the UK occur when a person has swallowed a toxic substance such as bleach, prescription drugs or wild plants and fungi.

If you think someone has swallowed a poisonous substance, call 999 or 112 to get immediate medical help.

The effects of poisoning depend on the substance swallowed but can include vomiting, loss of consciousness, pain or a burning sensation:

  • Find out what has been swallowed so you can tell the paramedic or doctor.
  • Do not give the person anything to eat or drink unless a health professional advises you to.
  • Never try to induce vomiting.  

If the person is unconscious, while you wait for help:

  • Make sure the airway is open and they are breathing. You open the airway by gently tilting the head back and lifting the chin to move the tongue away from the back of the mouth.
  • If they are breathing, put them in the recovery position, preferably with their head down so any vomit can escape without being swallowed or inhaled.
  • If they are not breathing, perform CPR until they start breathing or medical help arrives.
  • If there are any chemicals on their mouth, use a face shield or pocket mask to protect yourself if you give rescue breaths. 

Read more information about treating someone who has been poisoned.

shock

In the case of a serious injury or illness, it is important to watch for signs of shock.

Shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the circulatory system fails and, as a result, deprives the vital organs of oxygen. This is usually due to severe blood loss, but it can also happen after severe burns, severe vomiting, a heart attack, bacterial infection or severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

The type of shock described here is not the same thing as the emotional response of feeling shocked, which can also occur after an accident.

Signs of shock include: 

  • Pale, cold, clammy skin
  • Sweating
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Feeling sick and possibly vomiting
  • Thirst
  • Yawning
  • Sighing 

If you notice any signs of shock in a casualty, seek medical help immediately:

  • Dial 999 or 112 as soon as possible and ask for an ambulance.
  • Treat any obvious injuries.
  • Lay the person down if their injuries allow you to, and raise and support their legs.
  • Use a coat or blanket to keep them warm, but not smothered.
  • Do not give them anything to eat or drink.
  • Give lots of comfort and reassurance.
  • Monitor the person. If they stop breathing, start CPR. 

stroke

FAST is the most important thing to remember when dealing with people who have had a stroke. The earlier they receive treatment, the better. Call for emergency medical help straight away. 

If you suspect a person has had a stroke, use the FAST guide:

  • Facial weakness: is the person unable to smile evenly, or are their eyes or mouth droopy?
  • Arm weakness: is the person only able to raise one arm?
  • Speech problems: is the person unable to speak clearly or understand you?
  • Time to call 999 or 112 for emergency help if a person has any of these symptoms

measles

The measles virus is very easily spread in droplets from coughs and sneezes in the air. It can also be caught from contact with the skin of an infected person. You may not show symptoms until 6-21 days after being exposed to measles, but most people show symptoms after about 10 days (this is called the incubation period). Early symptoms of measles are like a cold with a fever, cough, red eyes and tiny spots (Koplik's spots) in the mouth. A red-brown spotty rash appears 3-4 days later and lasts for up to 7 days.

If you're pregnant and you think you've come into contact with someone with measles, and you know you're not immune, you should see your GP immediately. Your GP may treat you with human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG). This may reduce the severity of your measles.

If you're planning on getting pregnant and you're not sure if you've had measles or the measles vaccination, your GP may suggest you have the MMR jab to make sure you're immune.

You cannot have the jab while pregnant because the vaccination contains a live virus, which could cause infection in the baby. 

Preventing gastroenteritis in children

As gastroenteritis can be highly infectious, it is important to take steps to prevent it spreading from your child to other children.

Even if you isolate your child, it may be possible for adults in your household to spread the infection to other children without knowing it.

To prevent the spread of infection, it is recommended that you:

  • Encourage your child to wash their hands thoroughly after going to toilet and before eating. Also using an alcohol gel after washing hands.
  • Clean the toilet thoroughly using disinfectant after each episode of diarrhoea and vomiting. Make sure that you include the toilet handle and seat.
  • Wash your hands regularly, particularly after helping your child during an episode.
  • Do not share your child’s towels, flannels, cutlery or eating utensils with other members of your household.
  • Do not allow your child to return to school until 48 hours have passed since their last episode of diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Do not allow your child to go swimming in a pool for the first two weeks after their last episode of diarrhoea. Even though they will not have symptoms, research has found that the rotavirus that causes the illness can spread to other children through the pool water. 

food hygiene

Practising good food hygiene will help your child avoid getting gastroenteritis as a result of food poisoning. For example:

  • Regularly wash your hands, surfaces and utensils using hot, soapy water.
  • Don't store raw and cooked foods together.
  • Keep food properly refrigerated.
  • Always cook food thoroughly.
  • Don't eat food that is past its use by date.