Your first line of defense in a severe injury should be to put heavy pressure directly on the site of the wound. Don’t be afraid to apply a LOT of pressure. If you’re doing it right, it will probably be painful. When should you choose a tourniquet instead?
- The bleeding is severe: Don’t apply a tourniquet to wounds that aren’t bleeding much, even if they look deep. However, if you’re bleeding profusely, a tourniquet is often vital.
- The injury is in a limb: Tourniquets only work when the affected wound is in a limb, not the trunk of the body. For the upper body and neck, you need to use pressure bandages.
- Medical help is far away: If emergency personnel won’t arrive quickly, and your life is in danger, applying a tourniquet can buy you enough time for them to reach you. It’s usually safe to have a tourniquet applied for a max of two hours.
- Direct pressure doesn’t work: If applying heavy pressure to the wound stops or significantly slows bleeding, wait for emergency personnel to arrive. If it doesn’t work, however, use a tourniquet IMMEDIATELY.
- You need your hands free: Sometimes, it’s not possible to keep applying pressure yourself. In an automobile accident, you may have to help several different people with bleeding. The same thing happens if you’re in the woods and need to help a victim move to a safe area.
In these cases, don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. Even EMTs are trained to use tourniquets rather than risk excessive blood loss. Remember, your life is more important than any limb. Play it safe and apply tourniquets early rather than too late.
The Importance of Acting Quickly
Your body isn’t prepared to deal with massive blood loss. Loosing around 20% of your blood (about 1 liter) sends you into shock, making you feel confused, weak and tired. Unconsciousness appears after losing 30–40% of blood volume. Every second wasted, you get weaker and closer to passing out. Medical professionals recommend applying tourniquets BEFORE shock sets in, before life-threatening symptoms make survival difficult.
Common Tourniquet Mistakes To Avoid
If you’re bleeding profusely, you need to act when you still have the strength and focus to do so. At the same time, there are a few things you should never do:
Don’t use paracord: Paracord, shoelaces, zip ties and wire are a bad choice for tourniquets. They aren’t effective at stopping bleeding and can cut your skin when tightened, making the injury worse.
Don’t loosen the tourniquet: Once you apply a tourniquet, leave it tightened. Loosening it can damage your blood vessels.
Don’t stop: Some people think that a tourniquet means they have time to perform other survival actions, such as cleaning the wound. This isn’t the case. You only have two hours (or four hours with likely limb damage) to reach medical personnel for surgery. Get moving.
Don’t tourniquet snake bites: One situation where a tourniquet is NOT a good idea is with snake bites. This traps the venom in a small area, leading to dangerous tissue damage that usually requires amputation.
Using a tourniquet correctly can save your life or the people you love. In another article, we’ll talk about how to create a tourniquet from scratch, the best commercial tourniquets and how to apply them.