What to Do When You Get a Deep Cut or Laceration
August 21, 2020
August 21, 2020
Accidents happen to both adults and children – sometimes resulting in cuts and scratches that need to be treated.
At-home first aid is often sufficient for shallow cuts and minor lacerations. But when a deep wound happens, it is important that you seek medical care as soon as possible.
Basic first aid won’t be sufficient to stop the bleeding and protect against infection.
When should you talk to a doctor about a cut or laceration? Learn more about these injuries, and how to tell if you need to head to an urgent care clinic or the emergency room.
First Aid for Small Injuries
People often think that “cut” and “laceration” both refer to the same type of injury. The truth is that there are differences that should be noted.
If it is a clean line, such as an injury caused by a knife or piece of glass, then it falls in the category as a cut. On the other hand, lacerations have jagged edges from the tearing of the skin.
Small accidents, such as a paper cut or superficial knife injury don’t need emergency care. Instead, you can wash the skin carefully with soap and water. Apply pressure if needed to stop the bleeding. Then, apply over the counter antibiotic ointment over the wound and cover it with a bandage.
These first aid steps are important for preventing infection and promoting healing. If you delay treatment, then it increases the likelihood of infection – which could eventually lead to emergency medical care if the wound won’t heal on its own.
When Emergency Treatment is Needed for Cuts
A few common symptoms indicate your need for immediate medical care.
If you notice these symptoms due to your deep cut or laceration, then it is best to visit an urgent care or medical provider as soon as possible:
- Jagged edges around the wound
- Unable to stop the bleeding
- Heavy bleeding
- Puncture wound
- Injury happens with a dirty or rusty item
- The cut is bigger than ½ inch
- Gaping opening in the skin
- Visible bone
- Possible severing of the tendons or muscles below the skin
- Feeling like something is embedded in the wound
- Cut on the face
- Partial or full amputation of a finger or toe
- Penetration of the head, chest, or abdomen
- Located on high movement areas such as the feet, hands, or joints
- Red streaks appear on the skin
- Yellow pus is leaking from the wound
- Possibility of serious scarring
Some of these symptoms occur immediately after an injury such as the size, shape, and depth of the wound. Other signs of infection can show up within a few days of the injury. Keep an eye on the cut throughout the healing period so you can seek urgent medical treatment if an infection develops.
Emergency Recommendations for Serious Cuts and Lacerations
When a deep or large injury occurs, you need to act fast to control the bleeding. Medical services are required as soon as possible, but you should be proactive in managing the wound until you can get to a nearby urgent care or emergency room.
Follow these recommendations for emergency wound care:
- Apply Pressure: For heavy bleeding, apply pressure as soon as possible. Use a clean cloth, gauze, or plastic bags to hold pressure on the wound. As a last resort, your clean hand can be used for pressure application. Don’t remove the cloth or gauze if you notice the blood is seeping through the layer. Instead, apply another layer of cloth or gauze on top.
- Elevate: Position yourself with the injury above the heart, if possible. For example, prop the leg to elevate it, or hold an injured hand above the heart level. Elevating not only slows down blood flow, but it also helps to reduce the “throbbing” pain sensation.
- No Tourniquet: Even with heavy bleeding, it’s recommended that you avoid using a tourniquet if it isn’t needed. Tying an unnecessary tourniquet could result in more damage to the limb.
- Avoid Fainting: Blood loss at the site of injury can increase the risk of fainting. If you feel lightheaded or faint, then lie down. Another option is to sit with your head between your knees.
If needed, call our urgent care right away for recommendations about immediate care for the wound until you reach our clinic. We will have medical experts on hand to assist with fast, effective treatment to stop the bleeding and prevent infection.
When Does a Cut or Laceration Need Stitches?
Since lacerations have jagged edges around the wound, it is possible that you need stitches to hold the wound closed to promote healing. The depth of the cut also matters when deciding if you need stitches.
Stitches help by keeping the skin pulled together minimizes the risk of infection and also speeds up the healing process. If the wound is constantly re-opened by your normal movement throughout the day, then it increases the likelihood of the wound becoming infected.
Not only do emergency nurses and doctors offer help with stitches, but there are times when other medical services might also be required. For example, your vaccination history will be reviewed to determine if you need an updated tetanus vaccination.
Sometimes, doctors use dissolvable stitches, which means you don’t need to return for a follow-up appointment to remove the stitches. In some cases, it might be necessary to use removable stitches, and our medical team will provide guidelines for your return appointment to remove those stitches.
Common Medical Treatments for Cuts and Lacerations
Our medical staff completes a thorough examination to determine the best treatment method for your injury. We focus on a few treatment goals:
- Stop the bleeding
- Manage your pain
- Prevent infection
- Minimize serious scarring
Recommended treatment depends on the type of wound, location of the injury, and the depth/size of the wound. Common emergency wound treatments include:
- Stitches: Sewing the wound shut.
- Dermabond: A glue-like treatment that holds the wound together.
- Steristrips: Adhesive bandages shaped in a long, thin design to close shallow, thin wounds.
- Staples: Sometimes, staples are more effective than stitches if the wound is on the scalp, legs, arms, torso, or buttocks.
- Tetanus Shot: If it’s been more than 5 years since your last tetanus immunization, then it might be time for a booster.
In most situations, local anesthesia is used to numb the area before the treatment is applied. This helps to reduce the pain felt during the appointment. Severe injuries sometimes require general anesthesia.
When you go home, be careful to follow the care recommendations from your doctor. These tips can help to protect the wound, promote healing, and minimize the risk of infection:
- Use pain medication and antibiotics as directed
- Avoid strenuous activities and exercising
- Ask your doctor if you need to avoid water contact on the wound
- When showering, wrap the wound with a plastic bag if needed
- Don’t pick or scratch the wound
- Don’t apply iodine or hydrogen peroxide
- Don’t remove the stitches or closure material without visiting the doctor first
Urgent Medical Treatment for Wound Care
If you have an injury, then prompt medical care is the best way to avoid complications. Our team at Rapid Med Urgent Care is here to assist. Call us right away for an in-office appointment, or we also offer On-Demand appointments for non-urgent medical services.