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The ABC's of First Aid

Checking for vital signs of life is obviously a priority in first aid care. That's why you'll notice we talk a lot about checking pulses, listening for breathing, and recognizing signs of shock.

To help you remember which vital signs to check, remember your ABC's. These ABC's have nothing to do with reading and writing, but if you can think of them in the correct order, you might save a life.


Even if the environment is safe or if you think a person might have hurt his or her head or back, you might have to consider moving the person. For example, if you cannot detect breathing, if you are not getting a pulse, or if you are nowhere near emergency help, you might not have a choice. Hopefully, your car, your boat, or your arms are in good working order!

  • Airways Open. Look: Be sure to see if a person is breathing. Watch for steady intakes of breath and exhalations. Listen: Can you hear breathing? Is the breathing ragged or uneven? Help keep airways clear and accessible by placing one hand under an injured person's neck and gently tilting his or head back to keep the mouth and nose unobstructed.
  • Breathing Restored. An unconscious person will breath better if he or she is on her back in a prone position. A conscious person will do better either sitting up or semi-reclining. Keep clothing around the neck and shoulders loose. Reassure the injured person, calming him or her in an attempt to prevent emotional breathing problems such as anxiety-induced hyperventilation.
  • If an injured person is awake, try to find out if he or she has any history of heart disease. Shortness of breath can be a symptom of cardiac distress.

    If you detect shallow breathing or no breathing, make sure nothing is clogging passageways by hooking your fingers and checking a person's throat. Perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if the person doesn't appear to be breathing. Get help as fast as you can!

  • Circulation Maintained. Checking for a pulse is as crucial as making sure the victim can breathe. The heart, after all, must send blood oxygen to the lungs for breath (and to the brain for this basic instruction). Take the injured person's pulse. If you can't find a pulse, begin CPR if you are trained and certified to do so. If not, do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and scream for help.

It might sound obvious, but the best way to determine if a person is unconscious or awake is to shout in his or her ear. If you get no response, you know he or she is out—and you don't have to count to ten.

More on: First Aid

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to First Aid Basics © 1996 by Stephen J. Rosenberg, M.D. and Karla Dougherty. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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