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5 Dangerous Medical Myths That You Don’t Want to Fall For

defibMost people have a lot of really stupid ideas about what to do during a medical emergency. 90% of these ideas are probably gleaned from what we see on television. Even though we know deep down that movies and tv shows do not reflect reality, after seeing our favorite characters perform the same medical procedures over and over, we start to assume that they must be based in fact. The rest are old wives tales that simply refuse to die.

So if you don’t have any medical training, leave it to the professionals. And if a professional isn’t available, take note of the following:

Don’t Induce Vomiting

Most of you probably remember a time when it was normal to have a bottle of ipecac lying around the house, on the off chance that you would need to induce vomiting. It’s not so common anymore. In fact, ipecac has been discontinued. That’s because it’s no longer recommended as a treatment for accidental poisoning. Trying to vomit up a toxic substance is likely to cause even more damage to the esophagus, mouth, and lungs.

Granted, there are times when vomiting is the right thing to do. That’s why you should call poison control if you, a pet, or a child consumes a dangerous substance. They’ll tell you if you need to induce vomiting, let the substance pass, or go to the hospital.

Defibrillators Aren’t Magic

Based on how defibrillators are portrayed in movies, you’d think these machines run on the same principles you’d find in a Frankenstein movie. With enough electricity, just about any unconscious or near dead person can be jolted back to life. The reality of the matter is quite different.

Defibrillators are only useful in cases of cardiac arrest. Specifically they’re used to treat an irregular heart beat. In a nutshell, they temporarily stop the heart which gives it an opportunity to restart, hopefully with a healthy heartbeat. And unlike what you see in the movies, where doctors can bring a flat-lining patient back to life with their electric paddles, in the real world defibrillators don’t really work on someone without a heartbeat. In that case, CPR is probably in order rather than defibrillation.

Concussed Patients Need Sleep

For decades movies and TV shows have propagated this idea that a concussed person should never be allowed to sleep, lest they die or slip into a coma. However, the media didn’t necessarily pull this notion out of thin air. It was widely believed by the medical community until recently.

And it’s still true, but only to a small degree. If you have a concussion and you’re struggling to speak and walk, or your pupils are dilated, then you should avoid sleep and see a doctor ASAP. But most of the time that isn’t the case. For mild concussions, sleep is actually the best medicine [1].

How To Really Treat Nosebleeds

You’ve probably had a severe nosebleed at some point in your life, and I’m willing to bet that when it happened, someone told you that you need to tilt your head back. This is actually the exact opposite of what you should do to treat a nosebleed. You should lean forward and pinch your nose (unless it’s broken) for 5 minute intervals. You might have also been told to lay down, which again is terrible advice. It’s best to sit upright, which will reduce the amount of blood pressure in your nose.

It may not sound dangerous to lean your head back or lie down, but in some rare cases you can die from blood loss, or choke on the blood from a nosebleed (or pass out from blood loss and then suffocate). Nosebleeds are rarely serious, but they should always be treated as such.

Don’t Remove The Bullet

Whenever someone gets shot in a movie, this event is usually followed by a dramatic race against time to remove the bullet before the victim perishes. It’s never really explained why this needs to be done. In reality, trying to remove a bullet from someone is the last thing you want to do if you want them to survive.

For starters, once a bullet is lodged in the body, it’s probably done all the damage it can do. It’s not going anywhere. It’s probably not going to cause lead poisoning [2]. And since bullets reach a very high temperature as they leave the barrel, it’s going to be completely sterile. If you were shot, you could probably leave the bullet in there for the rest of your life without experiencing any complications.

On the other hand, trying to remove the bullet outside of a hospital setting could lead to an infection. And bullets aren’t exactly smooth after they punch through soft tissue and bone. There are usually plenty of jagged bits that could easily rupture blood vessels upon removal. Taking a bullet out of the human body is a very delicate procedure that is almost always unnecessary; and when it is needed, it’s best done by a professional in a sterile surgical room.