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Cuts and Abrasions

Most cuts are minor, but it’s still important to care for them. Most can be treated by cleaning with soap and water and applying a clean bandage. You also may want to treat the cut with an antibiotic ointment.

If you delay care for only a few hours, even a minor wound can build enough bacteria to cause a serious infection and increase your risk of a noticeable scar.

Puncture wounds may not seem very serious, but because germs and debris are carried deep into the tissues, a physician evaluation may be needed. In addition, antibiotics or a tetanus shot may be required.

Wounds that may require emergency medical care include:

  • Those that will not stop bleeding after a few minutes of applying direct pressure.
  • Deep, gaping, jagged or potentially disfiguring cuts, to avoid the formation of scar tissue.
  • Long or deep cuts that need stitches.
  • Cuts over a joint.
  • Cuts that may impair function of a body area such as an eyelid or lip.
  • Cuts that remove all of the layers of the skin like those from slicing off the tip of a finger.
  • Cuts from an animal or human bite.
  • Cuts that have damaged underlying nerves, tendons, or joints.
  • Cuts over a possible broken bone.
  • Cuts caused by a crushing injury.
  • Cuts with an object embedded in them.
  • Cuts caused by a metal object or a puncture wound.

Also call 911 or emergency services immediately if:

  • Bleeding from the cut does not slow during the first few minutes of steady direct pressure.
  • Signs of shock occur.
  • Breathing is difficult because the cut is in the neck or chest.
  • The wound is a deep cut to the abdomen that causes moderate to severe pain.
  • The wound is a cut to the eyeball.
  • The cut amputates or partially amputates an extremity.

To help stop the bleeding:

  • Apply firm, direct pressure over a bleeding wound with clean cloth or sterile bandage. Maintain pressure until bleeding subsides, or until trained medical help arrives.
  • If the person has been impaled (by a knife, pole or other similar object), do not pull the offending object out of the wound, as this may cause uncontrolled bleeding or organ damage.
  • Don’t use heavy pressure if the wound is on the person’s head.
  • If bleeding is occurring in a limb, elevate the wound unless you suspect the limb is broken.
  • If blood soaks through bandages, do not remove them as this may interfere with clotting. Instead apply more bandages directly on top.
  • Deep cuts should not be cleansed. Do not apply antiseptic, as it could damage healthy tissue. 
  • For wounds that are still bleeding after applying steady, firm pressure for more than five minutes, call 911 immediately. Continue applying firm, direct pressure over the wound with a clean cloth or sterile bandage.
  • If bleeding is severe, and you think the person’s life is in danger, wrap a 3″ wide tourniquet above the wound area and pull tightly.

Be aware that injuries that cause bleeding may also cause shock.

A tetanus shot may be required if you have not had one within 10 years or if you are unsure of when you last had one. Tetanus is a bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and is often fatal.

Although most people are aware that stepping on a rusty nail or a puncture wound can cause a tetanus infection, most people do not know that tetanus bacteria can also enter the body even through a tiny pinprick, a scratch from an animal, splinters, bug bites and even burns that break the skin.

Anyone who thinks they're having a medical emergency should not hesitate to seek care. Federal law ensures that anyone who comes to the emergency department is treated and stabilized, and that their insurance provides coverage based on symptoms, not a final diagnosis. 

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