The first thing we should say (just in case you’re reading this while applying pressure to a slice that just occurred) is gingerly remove that blood-soaked paper towel and take a look at the wound—maybe sit down first too, just in case you get light-headed.
Call 911 or get to an emergency center immediately if:
- The cut is bleeding severely
- Blood is spurting out
- The bleeding can’t be stopped after 10 minutes of firm, steady pressure
The bulk of cuts and scrapes can be handled at home, and we’ll cover some at-home first aid tips for cuts later in this post, but first—we should review the types of wounds that may require medical attention.
A puncture wound, such as stepping on a nail, usually doesn’t cause excessive bleeding and often the wound seems to close instantly. However, this is no reason to not seek medical care. Bacteria usually stays trapped within a puncture wound and is likely to become infected. Perform general first aid (steps outlined at the end of this article) and keep a watchful eye for signs of infection. If the wound doesn’t significantly improve over the course of a couple days it’s time to see a doctor.
Incisions and Lacerations
Incisions and lacerations are similar wounds—the difference revolves around the how clean the cut is. An incision refers to a smooth cut made cleanly with a sharp instrument or object while a laceration is an irregular cut or tear, typically accidental. The severity of both the incision and laceration determines whether an emergency center visit is required. Typically, these cuts are deep and may involve damage to the underlying nerves and muscles and require emergency care.
The best course is to rinse the wound as best as possible, wrap the area tightly, and apply pressure on your way to an emergency center.
Avulsions refer to open wounds that result from flesh being torn away from the body—usually the result of an explosion or animal bite. Since avulsions are so traumatic, and can occasionally detach parts of the body, immediate emergency care is almost always required. Avulsions can range in severity from skin flaps (minor) to degloving (moderate) and amputation of a finger or limb (severe). Most avulsions require skin grafts and reconstructive surgery.
General First Aid Steps for Moderate Cuts
Control the bleeding. Apply even pressure with a bandage or clean cloth. If the bleeding persists after a few minutes of pressure, seek medical assistance.
Clean, treat and cover. Rinse the wound with water, and if necessary, use disinfected tweezers to remove any debris. If debris remains embedded, see your doctor. Clean the area surrounding the wound with soap and water. Then, apply a thin layer of an antibiotic ointment or cream. Cover the wound with a bandage and be sure to swap out the bandage regularly for a fresh one.
Look out for signs of infection. Redness, warmth and swelling around the wound are signs of infection as well as drainage from the wound. If you think your wound is becoming infected go into the doctor sooner than later.