How to Handle Everyday Ouches

Advice from the pros—including when to head to the doc!

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You Sprain Your Ankle

DIY Remedy: Forget "walking it off." Halt the swelling by wrapping the ankle snugly (but not so tight that you feel a tingle) with an elastic bandage. Then try to keep it elevated for up to 72 hours. For pain, take acetaminophen—follow the dosage instructions on the label—during the first two days, says Thomas Kaminski, Ph.D., professor and director of athletic training at the University of Delaware. Unlike some other meds, it won't block the anti-inflammatories that jump-start the body's natural healing process. After 48 hours, pop an inflammation reducer like ibuprofen (read the label for how much to take).

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See A Doc If… The joint looks deformed, you're in a ton of pain even with your foot elevated, or you still can't put weight on it after more than 2 to 3 days.

You're Having an Allergic Reaction

DIY Remedy: If you broke out in hives after, say, a lobster dinner, a cool compress on the skin can ease the itch. Next, take an antihistamine like Benadryl: It blocks histamine, the chemical that flares up during an allergic reaction, says Robert Dachs, M.D., vice chair of emergency medicine at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, NY. For extra relief, try a dose of Pepcid or Zantac, two antacids that also block histamine receptors in the skin and can help calm the irritation.

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Call 911 If… Your tongue or throat swells. Those are signs of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that cuts off breathing.

You Get Stung by a Bee

DIY Remedy: Get the stinger out fast: Until you do, it'll leak out venom. Use your fingernail, tweezers, or a credit card to scrape it out. Then leave the area, because the venom signals other bees to sting anyone nearby. Use an ice pack for the pain and an oral antihistamine like Benadryl for inflammation. Don't use the adult OTC for kids—reach for children's Benadryl and check with your pediatrician about the appropriate dosage.

Call 911 If… Your throat or tongue starts swelling. Don't try to drive yourself to the ER; you could stop breathing. The EMTs can treat you in the ambulance.

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You Spot a Tick on You

DIY Remedy: Don't panic and try to yank it off without tweezers, says Tom Mather, Ph.D., director of the University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center. Using your fingers may squish the bug and spread disease-causing germs. With tweezers (the pointier the better), grasp the tick by the head and pull straight up. Then wipe your skin with rubbing alcohol.

Call A Doc If… The bug looks like a deer tick, which can carry Lyme disease. (Find pics at Some M.D.'s recommend antibiotics even before the symptoms (fever, chills, and a growing rash around the bite) show up; others try a wait-and-see approach. It's controversial, though. You and your doc should decide together.

You've Got a Nosebleed

DIY Remedy: Resist the urge to tip your head back—the blood can run down your throat and cause you to gag. Instead, tip it forward and use your thumb and index finger to pinch the soft part of your nose for five minutes, says Ian Humphreys, D.O., a clinical instructor in otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) at Stanford University's School of Medicine. Pinching the nostrils shut (like you're holding your nose in a "pee-yew") puts pressure on the blood vessels where the bleeding is coming from. If the flow doesn't stop, keep pinching for another five minutes.

See A Doc If… You're still bleeding after 20 minutes or you get nosebleeds several times a week. Either can indicate a more serious problem.

You Cut Your Finger

DIY Remedy: Apply pressure: Grab a clean towel or gauze and firmly hold it on the cut until the bleeding stops. Then rinse with water to flush away bacteria, says emergency medicine expert Dachs. Next, swipe on an antibiotic like Neosporin and use a regular bandage. (We also like liquid bandages—they dry on the skin and seal the wound like a scab—for hard-to-wrap nicks.)

See A Doc If… You hit a bone (you'll see it) or a nerve (you'll lose feeling in the finger). In that case, get to the ER right away and skip the bandage stage; just apply pressure the whole time. You should also go if you've been putting pressure on the cut for 15 minutes, but the bleeding won't stop. The slash might be deeper than you think.

You've Got a Stomach Bug

DIY Remedy: Unfortunately, the stomach flu is viral, which means meds won't make the bug go away any quicker. You may have to let it run its course for 24 hours or more. The key, says Dachs, is drinking plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. Every 30 to 60 minutes, sip 2 to 4 oz of fluid, ideally an electrolyte-rich drink like Gatorade or coconut water. If you can't keep any fluids down, sucking on ice chips also can help you stay hydrated.

Call a Doc If… You're feeling faint while sitting or can't hold anything down for 24 hours. You may need to head to the ER for an IV drip to deal with the dehydration.

You Burn Yourself

DIY Remedy: Dash to the sink and hold your skin under cold running water for 10 to 15 minutes. That'll help soothe the pain and quash the swelling. An antibiotic ointment like Neosporin is your next step. If you don't have that, try smearing on a thin layer of honey, which has antibacterial properties. One 2009 study review found that honey may also speed up the healing time for minor burns.

See a Doc If… Large blisters appear within 24 hours (a sign of a second-degree burn), the burn is over 3 inches, or it's on the hands, feet, face, or groin. You should also see an M.D. if red streaks show up near the wound, indicating an infection.

Dr. Oz on Burn Remedies

When someone in my family gets a minor burn, we treat it with gel from an aloe vera plant. You'll get the skin-healing and antibacterial benefits of a store-bought aloe product without any irritating additives. Just break off a leaf, slice it down the middle with a knife, and dab the clear gel on the burn.

Always ask your health care professional about specific medical needs. This information is not individual medical advice and may not be appropriate for you.

This story originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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