How to Respond to an Emergency at Home

By Prof Adrian Murphy, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, CUH

Tips in a Medical Emergency:

  • Take a breath, and stay calm
  • Check for danger to yourself, others and the patient – do not put yourself in harms way and risk becoming a patient yourself
  • Call 999/112 for help early. Know your Eircode, or the closest landmarks to your location (eg: school, church, sports pitch). To help the Ambulance Service locate you at night, turn on house lights, open your front gate and door. You can also consider putting the hazard lights on in your car.
  • In places where you spend a lot of time, familiarise yourself with the location of the nearest Automated External Defibrillator (AED).


Here are some actions you can take when specific emergencies occur at home:

Chest Pain

First aid for chest pain depends on the cause. Chest pain can be caused by less serious problems such as muscular strains, infection, stress, or heartburn, to potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks or blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolus).

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if your chest pain is caused by a heart attack or a less serious condition. Do not try to diagnose this yourself. If your chest pain lasts more than a few minutes, is new or unexplained – seek emergency medical help.


Heart Attack

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) is a life threatening event that occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is compromised due to a blockage in one of the coronary arteries. Typical symptoms include central chest pain that may travel to the neck, jaw, back or arms. Patients may also experience shortness of breath, lightheadedness, weakness, nausea or loss of consciousness.

For patients having a heart attack, every minute counts. Stay calm, and call 999/112 for an ambulance. Encourage the patient to rest, sit or lie down, and loosen tight clothing. Give an adult dose of aspirin if no previous allergies to aspirin have been experienced. If the patient has been prescribed a nitroglycerin spray, encourage them to take it.

In the event that the patient stops breathing, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available and the patient is unconscious, follow the device instructions for using it.



A stroke occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen, and is caused when a blood vessel carrying oxygen-rich blood bursts, or is blocked by a blood clot. Up to one in five people will have a stroke at some stage in their life. The majority of patients who suffer a stroke are over 65 years, however, younger patients can also suffer a stroke. The onset of symptoms are very rapid.

Symptoms include weakness or numbness on one side of the body, slurred speech, confusion, visual disturbance, unsteadiness and sometimes headache. Remember the acronym FAST – Facial droop, Arm weakness, Speech Difficulties, Time to call an ambulance.

Stroke is a treatable condition, and is a medical emergency. Recognition of a possible stroke is crucial and early emergency medical management greatly improves the chances of a successful outcome. Don’t give the patient anything to eat or drink (including medications), keep them comfortable and call 999/112.


Cuts, Wounds and Bleeding

The primary goals in wound management are to stop bleeding, prevent wound infection and promote healing.

For minor cuts, wash your hands (or wear clean sterile gloves), clean the wound with lukewarm water to gently remove any debris or dirt, stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure with a piece of gauze or clean cloth for a few minutes. If possible, apply some petroleum jelly (from a tube, not from a jar) to keep the wound moist and act as a barrier to bacteria. Cover the cut with a sterile bandage. Consider taking some over-the-counter pain medications (paracetamol, ibuprofen).


Burns and Scalds

Cool the burn or scald immediately in cool running water for approximately 30 minutes, keeping the rest of your body warm. You should only use burn gel if there is no running water nearby. If you cannot apply cool water immediately, do it as soon as possible after the injury. Remove any clothing or jewellery in the vicinity of the burn. Do not apply any ointments or sprays to the burnt area. Cover the burn with a non-stick dressing or cling film.

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