Clotting agents are a common item to find in prepper first-aid kits. Considering that stopping bleeding is a major part of first-aid, that makes a lot of sense. But these clotting agents need to be used properly, in order to be effective. Otherwise, we may as well not have them.
The way clotting agents work isn’t to promote clotting, in the normal way we think of the word. Rather, it is to generate heat, a lot of heat. This heat is then used to cauterize the wound, cutting off blood flow.
Herein we encounter the first problem. The heat is generated automatically, by a chemical reaction that happens between the chemicals in the clotting agent and the blood’s plasma. But that heat isn’t going to do what it’s supposed to, without pressure. It’s like trying to shut off a garden hose by applying a torch to one side. Without the two sides of the hose being pressed together, when the rubber or plastic starts to melt, all that will happen is burning a hole; the water will keep flowing.
Applying pressure is one of the first things taught in first-aid, as a means of stopping blood flow. Many times that’s all that’s needed, as the pressure will crush arteries, slowing the flow of blood until a clot can form. In the case of using a clotting agent, it’s also necessary to use pressure, crushing the artery, so that the heat will cauterize the artery closed.
With this in mind, clotting agents, like tourniquets, should only be used when absolutely necessary. Closing off arteries can result in flesh “downstream” not receiving necessary oxygen and nutrients, leading to the death of that tissue. So, using these methods when they are not necessary can cause the patient to lose an arm or leg when they have to be amputated.
Of the two, using a clotting agent is less likely to lead to an amputation than using a tourniquet, because the loss of blood flow is more localized. When a tourniquet is applied, it cuts off blood flow to the entire limb; which can have much graver consequences.
This is not to say that we never use clotting agents or tourniquets. Rather, the use of one is a calculated risk that is only taken when necessary. If a patient is bleeding out rapidly, it might be necessary to apply the clotting agent to save the patient’s life. Just understand the risk associated with its use.
Applying any clotting agent is going to create a lot of pain for the patient and the pain will only increase when you apply pressure along with it. If the patient is lucid, they will probably scream and ask you to stop. But stopping could put their life at risk. If you’ve decided that using a clotting agent is necessary, then follow through and make sure you use it properly.
The patient may struggle against you. For that reason, you should always have the help of others, when applying any clotting agent. Have those assistants hold down the patient, either with their hands, or if necessary, by lying across their limbs. You need that patient relatively still, so that the pressure you’re applying doesn’t move around.