At Cardiac Science, we’re often asked questions about when it is safe to use a defibrillator. From defibrillating patients in the wind and rain, to attempting to resuscitate an intoxicated person, there are hundreds of scenarios that people are unsure about. So we’ve put together a handy guide to all sorts of unusual situations – just in case.
Can you use a defibrillator in water?
If a patient is a victim of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in water, the AHA 2010 Guidelines recommend that you move them to drier land before defibrillation – provided this can be done very quickly.
If not, defibrillator manufacturers’ tests have shown that on shallow water, the current that reaches the rescuer isn’t enough to cause any harm.
Time is of the essence in cases of SCA, and one minute either way can be the difference between life and death. So if you think it will take too long to move the patient, it’s better to just use the defibrillator.
Can you use a defibrillator in the rain?
According to the UK Resuscitation Council, it’s safe to use a defibrillator on a wet floor.
So whether you’re on a rainy, puddle-strewn street, a muddy football pitch, or a wet changing room floor, it’s better to defibrillate than wait.
But remember, for the self-adhesive electrodes to stick properly, the patient’s chest needs to be as dry as possible. So if the rain is very heavy, make sure you shelter the patient with an umbrella, a coat, or a plastic sheet, and dry their chest before applying the pads.
Can you use a defibrillator in snow or ice?
If the patient is lying in snow or ice, it is safe to use an AED on them, as neither are good electricity conductors.
Just make sure the patient’s chest is dry before you apply the self-adhesive defibrillator pads, to ensure the best possible contact.
Can you use a defibrillator on a metal surface?
Yes, it’s safe to defibrillator someone who is lying on a metal or conductive surface. The metal poses no shock hazard to either the victim of the SCA, or the rescuer.
Can you use a defibrillator on someone with a pacemaker?
Pacemaker or not, if someone is in cardiac arrest, they need help.
You can sometimes feel where the pacemaker or implanted defibrillator is through the skin of the upper chest. So just try not to place the AED pads within 1 inch of this location, as it can damage the patient’s device.
Can you use a defibrillator on someone with a stent?
A stent is a tiny tube that is inserted into the heart to help keep a blocked passageway open. The stent restores the flow of blood or other fluids, depending on where it’s placed. Studies have shown that a patient can be defibrillated without causing damage to the stent or the patient.
Can you use a defibrillator on someone with nipple piercings?
Yes, it is safe to use an AED on someone with piercings or jewellery.
Don’t try to remove them, as this can waste precious time. Simply avoid placing the defibrillator pads directly over the piercings.
Can you use a defibrillator on a drunk person?
Yes. However, it is not advisable to use a defibrillator if you yourself have been drinking. So if someone nearby is sober, quickly ask them to operate it instead.
Can you use a defibrillator on an elderly person?
Yes, it is safe to use a defibrillator on an elderly person. The defibrillator will analyse their heart rhythm to check if it is ‘shockable’ or not – and won’t deliver an electric shock unless it can help the patient.
Can you use a defibrillator on a pregnant woman?
Absolutely. But if their breasts are enlarged, you should try to avoid them when placing the defibrillator pads. This may help to ensure that the electrical current has an unimpeded route to the heart.
Can you use a defibrillator on a child?
Cardiac arrest is less common in children than adults and the incidence of shockable rhythms requiring defibrillation in the paediatric population is very low but can occur. The priority must always be for high quality CPR and getting expert help. However, an AED can be deployed across all age groups if this is the only available machine.
The paediatric advanced life support guidelines 2015 state that if using an AED on a child of less than eight years, a paediatric attenuated shock energy should be used if possible. Commonly the AED will then restrict the shock energy to around 50 J.
Experience with the use of AEDs (preferably with dose attenuator) in children younger than 1 year is limited. The use of an AED is acceptable if no other option is available as on balance it is probably better to give a 50 J shock than nothing at all.
If the child is younger than 8 years old, paediatric defibrillator pads should be used if available. However if they are not available you can safely use adult-sized defibrillator pads on them.
One more thing...
Remember: an AED like the Powerheart® G5 will not allow you to administer an electric shock to someone who doesn’t need it.
So whether they’re young, old, pregnant, drunk, wet, snowy, or dry – if they’re in cardiac arrest, using life-saving skills to try to help is always a good idea.