It happens all of the time. Your kid comes in with a skinned knee. Cutting the vegetables gets a little out of hand. Your arm is caught on the sharp edge of an old fence, and blood starts to seep up from your skin. Since cuts and scrapes are a fact of life, we all need to know how to deal with them from time to time.
Taking the right actions and precautions can keep a small cut from becoming a big problem. Other times, the presence of a significant wound is clear, but it can be difficult to know when a medical intervention is needed. This is a quick guide to dealing with life’s lacerations.
When is a cut or scrape dangerous?
For serious injuries, blood loss is the most pressing issue. An injury with a deep cut and/or severe bleeding (think blood spurting out) clearly needs an immediate response from a medical professional. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after 10 minutes of continual pressure or there is an object embedded in the skin, it is time to seek medical care. Wounds involving the area around the eye or cartilage around the ear also require medical assistance. There is often a risk of lasting damage to those important sensory organs.
If the cut is deeper than a superficial wound, it may need stitches or staples in order to heal appropriately. In these instances, getting timely care is essential for avoiding negative outcomes. That does not necessarily mean you have to call an ambulance immediately. Jumping in the car and heading to a nearby emergency room, urgent care, or doctor’s office can be just as effective in getting a loved one the care they need. Do not wait too long though. Closing the wound with staples or stitches can become much more difficult and introduce other risks.
What is the best way to treat a cut or scrape?
- Stop the bleeding. Most minor cuts and scrapes will stop bleeding on their own. If not, use a clean cloth or gauze to apply constant pressure on the wound until it stops bleeding.
- Clean the wound. Use soap and warm water.
- Consider covering the scrape with a bandage. If the cut is in a place that is likely to get dirty (for example, the hands or the feet), cover the scrape with a bandage. Otherwise, don’t dress the wound.
- Monitor for infection, redness, and swelling.
Washing a wound takes caution and care. After the bleeding stops, carefully clean the wound. If needed, The Mayo Clinic recommends using tweezers sterilized with alcohol to help pull out dirt and debris. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide for the cleaning. Among the bad bacteria introduced from the outside, your body has good bacteria at the site of a wound to help reduce infection. Hydrogen peroxide unfortunately kills both. Soap and warm water will do the trick. After that, apply an antiseptic, like Neosporin, to aid the healing and protect against infection.
How do I know if a cut is infected?
If a cut or a scrape does not seem to be healing appropriately, it is important to check for signs of infection. According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, more pain, more swelling, and more tenderness are potential signs of infection and should be addressed ASAP by a medical professional. Also look for redness or a red streak towards the heart. Pus, pimples, or an increasingly large scab can indicate a cause for concern. A fever, weakness or other signs of a life threatening emergency should signal that additional care is needed.
It is important to take these warning signs seriously. Bacteria that can cause serious illness can be found almost everywhere. Tetanus is a life threatening infection that often can be introduced through small cuts and scrapes. Harvard Health Publishing describes “Tetanus bacteria usually enter the body through a dirty puncture wound, cut, scrape or some other break in the skin. Once inside the skin, they multiply and produce a toxin, or poison, that affects the body’s nerves.” Fortunately, the tetanus vaccine is one of the most successful vaccination campaigns we have today. Vaccines significantly limit the impact of this terrible illness. Using proper precautions when caring for a wound provides an additional barrier against infections like tetanus proliferating in the wound.
The reality is that we cannot protect the ones we love from every cut, scrape, bump, and bruise that comes their way. The right response can make a huge difference in avoiding unnecessary pain and the risk of infection. Taking wounds seriously by following the steps for effective care will pave the way for a quick recovery.