Taking a trip to the beach is something most Australians take for granted. A fun day out under the sun working on a healthy tan, or frolicking in the rolling waves is the ideal way to relax and play for most. But what happens when your day of fun and adventure takes a turn for the worse? You or someone else on the beach suffers from a range of accidents that might spontaneously occur on a beach and needs immediate First Aid attention. Are you First Aid and CPR qualified? Let’s look at the most likely medical events to occur on the beach and how to provide First Aid.
There are two types of drowning. The first, and most obvious, involves the lungs filling with water, preventing the normal oxygen exchange and thus causing the person to drown in a body of liquid.
The second is called dry drowning. Dry drowning means the water never reaches the lungs. Instead, breathing in water causes the vocal cords to spasm. That spasm closes the airway, making breathing difficult or impossible, and the person succumbs to death via a lack of oxygen caused by asphyxiation.
In both cases, the person can be saved if their airway is restored. In the case of the wet drowning victim, CPR will begin to force the water out of the lungs and make room for the oxygen to be returned. Drowning victims will cough violently and for some time after they are resuscitated as the body forces the remaining water out of the lungs.
In the case of dry drowning, the airway needs to be intubated, inserting a special tube down the throat to open the blockage and allow oxygen flow to be restored via CPR and rescue breaths, or via a bag ventilation system.
The First Aid required for both is CPR and calling 000 for an ambulance. If the beach is patrolled, signal and shout for a lifeguard or have someone else locate one and they will arrive with the AED and equipment necessary to take over the situation.
What is the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack, and are they the same thing? Clinically speaking, they are two different conditions, and that is why they have different names. Unfortunately, there is no way for a First Aid responder to know which event occurred, so all heart conditions are treated with the same CPR, even if it cannot help the patient. You have no way of knowing which event occurred.
A heart attack is a “circulation” problem caused when blood flow to the heart is prevented by a blockage in an artery and can be instantly deadly. People who suffer from a heart attack often never survive and die without the ability to be revived, even with immediate CPR. The reason for this is that CPR cannot remove the blockage that stopped the heart in the first place, and even with the external stimulation, the blockage prevents the movement of blood through the heart to the brain. Without the movement around the circulatory system, the blood pools and thickens in the arteries, and the brain and cells die from the lack of oxygen.
Cardiac arrest should be considered an “electrical signal malfunction” where the heart suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. Typically, given CPR immediately, these people will survive and live normal lives if their heart can be restarted either by manual CPR or via the use of an automated AED.
Resuscitation means the act of bringing a living entity back from apparent death or unconsciousness. When combined in the ratio of 2:30 (2 rescue breaths and 30 chest compressions), set to a 100-120 bpm rhythm is the act of providing CPR.
Ignore the old myth that peeing on a jellyfish sting helps the pain. It does not and often causes the unfired venom to release, intensifying the pain. The best thing to carry to the beach is a bottle of vinegar, as the vinegar neutralises the jellyfish venom. Remove any tentacles with tweezers, not the fingers. Jellyfish tentacles can sting through latex gloves and cause the First Aid responder injury.
First aid is ideally soaking the area in hot but not scalding water for twenty minutes. In lieu of having hot water, the use of an ice pack can be beneficial to numb the area and reduce the pain.
Bicarb soda can also be used as a substitute for vinegar as it has similar venom-neutralising properties when made into a thick paste similar to toothpaste in consistency and applied to the affected area.
Anyone who has ever walked along a beach barefoot will have felt the pain of stepping on a broken shell, jagged rock, or coral fragment. While painful, these are minor injuries and are easily treated with a basic First Aid kit. The use of an antiseptic liquid to flush the wound and then the application of a Band-Aid are usually all that is required.
For longer or deeper cuts, the lifeguard on duty will have the necessary First Aid supplies. In the event of a major artery laceration, or broken bones, call 000 for an ambulance and attempt to tourniquet the artery and stop and control the bleeding using pressure.
For broken bones, sling or splint the limb in the question and get them to the nearest emergency room for assessment ASAP.
Sunburn is one of those evils that comes with the territory when you visit the beach in Australia. You can be covered in 50+ sunblock and still get sunburnt if you spend too long under the sun or in the water. The application of aloe vera, Burn Aid creams, or commercial sunburn gels, lotions and sprays can also take the sting out of a sunburn and are purchased from most chemists and large department stores like Coles and Woolworths.
Too much sun can lead to heat stroke and sunstroke. Both cause the brain to overheat and can be potentially life-threatening if not treated ASAP.
Cool the person using wet towels and a hose or a wet sheet with a fan directed across the surface, constantly ensuring the sheet or towel is cold and wet. Heat drawn from the body will quickly heat up, dry out the wet sheet or towel, and stop cooling the body, so monitor frequently.
If ice packs are available, wrap them in towels and place them around the neck, groin, under the armpits and to the base of the feet. Monitor their temperature and don’t let it fall below 37 degrees Celsius. If shivering occurs, reduce the active cooling measures. If they become unresponsive, place them in the recovery position and call 000, monitoring their airway and heart rate. Provide CPR if required until help arrives.
If the person has a body temperature over 40 degrees, call 000 immediately and submerge the body in the coldest water available or place under a cold running shower until help arrives or their body temperature falls back below 37 degrees Celsius.
Febrile agents in the form of paracetamol and Ibuprofen will help to reduce the internal temperature in conscious patients and, in some cases, provide mild pain relief from the resulting headache caused by the brain’s dehydration. Getting cool but not icy fluids in the form of electrolytes in water or Gatorade into the person is critical as quickly as possible. Keeping them hydrated is critical to their recovery.
Heat stroke is genuinely a life-threatening concern and should never be taken lightly. It can take 48 hours for the average heat stroke patient to return to normal brain function.