What You Should Know About Treating Cuts
Whether it's a slip of the kitchen knife or a run-in with a nail or slice from a piece of paper, everyone suffers a cut now and then. Knowing what to do when you get a cut will help it heal and prevent infection, says the American Academy of Family Physicians.
The first step is to clean the cut, because a clean cut rarely becomes infected. Even if the cut is still bleeding, hold it under cool tap water or rub it clean in a basin of water. Don't use hot water, because that will dilate blood vessels and cause the cut to bleed more. Gently wash the area with soap to help flush out dirt, debris and bacteria.
For cuts that don't stop bleeding on their own, apply firm pressure on the wound with a sterile gauze dressing. Minor cuts will stop bleeding in 10 to 20 minutes. Elevating the site of the cut also can slow bleeding. If you are concerned about the bleeding, call your health care provider.
Cover the cut to keep airborne bacteria out and to remind you the cut is there so you won't injure it further. An adhesive bandage strip clings best around a finger or other curved area. Butterfly-type strips hold separated skin together better on a flat surface, such as your back. Once a scab starts forming, remove any bandage. Don't pick the scab. Let nature remove your scab when it's ready.
You don't have to use an antibiotic ointment. If the wound is properly flushed with water and covered, bacteria won't get in. If you choose to use an ointment, apply it to the surface of the cut for only one or two days. Don't try to force ointment into the cut; the ointment is meant to be a surface barrier to germs.
Certain cuts need a doctor's care. If your cut won't stop bleeding, or gapes open, or if the general area is numb or stiff, you need help. Difficulty in moving a cut finger, for example, could mean you've done damage to a muscle, tendon or ligament. You may need stitches if the cut is longer than a third of an inch. Other kinds of cuts that may have been seriously contaminated, such as puncture wounds that are deeper than they are wide, or animal and human bites, need immediate medical attention.
Cuts are a potential source of tetanus infection. Tetanus, or lockjaw, can be fatal. It is rare these days, because vaccination is so common. The threat of tetanus is almost always present from wounds caused not only by rusty nails, but also from common household items, such as kitchen knives. The rule of thumb: If you haven't had a booster for 10 years, you should get a shot when injured.
Online Medical Reviewers:
Chang, Alice MD
Cranwell-Bruce, Lisa MS, RN, FNP-C
Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN
Lambert, J.G. M.D.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.
Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.