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AEDs don’t have to be intimidating. Here’s how (and when) to use one.

AEDs don’t have to be intimidating. Here’s how (and when) to use one.

AEDs don’t have to be intimidating. Here’s how (and when) to use one.

Using the device during an emergency can save a person in cardiac arrest. The machine itself will guide you every step of the way.

You’ve probably seen one at the airport, your doctor’s office, or maybe the mall. That white, windowed box jutting out from the wall that holds an automated external defibrillator, or AED.

AEDs are used to help shock a heart back into a normal rhythm, as was the case when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered sudden cardiac arrest on the field. AED’s are typically found in public places, although a high-risk person may have a prescription for a home device.

You’re in public and see someone collapse. What do you do?

Call 911 or ask someone nearby to make the call. CPR training teaches you to check a person’s airway and determine if they are breathing and have a pulse. If not, begin CPR and ask someone to find a nearby AED.

If you are alone, call 911 and put the phone on speaker and start CPR. If you can see the AED or know that it’s very close, you can sprint and grab it. But do not waste time and leave the person alone while trying to find an AED. Focus on administering CPR until help arrives.

Even if you aren’t CPR trained, you can do a hands-only version, said Nici Singletary, co-chair of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Virginia. Take both hands, place them on the center of the person’s chest and press down hard and fast.

Aim for about 100 to 120 compressions per minute, humming the Bee Gees tune, “Stayin’ Alive” to keep the right pace.

“CPR is kind of the bare minimum that has to be provided continuously before a defibrillator should be applied,” said Chris Cunningham, an emergency medicine physician at Henry Ford Hospital who studies AED access.

If another person finds an AED, take it out of its case and turn it on. Every model will be clearly marked with instructions. The AED will talk you through how to apply its sticky pads to the person’s chest so it can monitor their heartbeat. The pads need to be applied to dry skin, so wipe off the person if necessary and remove any clothing, including bras, blocking the way.

The pads include diagrams with detailed instructions showing you where to place the pads on a person’s body.

After the pads are applied, the AED will monitor the person’s heartbeat and decide whether administering a shock would be useful. If a shock is advised, it will warn you to stand back and not touch the person with any part of your body.

After shocking the person’s heart, the AED will tell you to continue CPR as it monitors their heartbeat. After about two minutes, it will let you know whether it will administer another shock. If a shock is not advised, leave the pads on and continue CPR until help arrives.

How do you know if an AED could help? 

The machine will tell you. AEDs are useful in the event of cardiac arrest and in the case of certain heart rhythms. They are not for other issues such as heart attacks. The machine knows how to detect whether it can help. Even if you apply the pads to the chest of someone having a heart attack, the AED would sense the rhythm of their heart and would not shock them.

If you see someone collapse and you’re not sure why, look for obvious signs first like visible injuries or profuse bleeding. If you don’t see any, alternate between shouting and shaking the person to see if they respond. If they don’t, begin CPR. If the person is unresponsive, you should continue CPR and try to obtain an AED.

“If they have passed out and you start doing compressions, they will generally start to wake up and they will take their hands and bring them up in a reflex to push your hands away,” Singletary said.

What if the person who collapsed is pregnant?

AEDs can safely be used if the unconscious person is pregnant. If someone’s breasts are enlarged because of pregnancy, or they have larger breasts, Singletary said you may have to lift up the breast to adhere the AED pad appropriately. 

What if a child collapsed?

Some AEDs come with pediatric pads for use on children who are younger than 8 years old or weigh less than 55 pounds. If pediatric pads aren’t available or the device doesn’t have a pediatric setting, it is safe to use the adult pads on a child.

What if I misuse the AED or hurt the person by doing CPR?

AEDs are highly unlikely to harm the operator or person on which they’re being used.

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