Cuts (Lacerations)

This leaflet gives a guide as to what you should do following a cut.

Press firmly on the wound to stop the bleeding.

Obtain medical attention if the bleeding is heavy or does not stop soon. See separate leaflet called Dealing with Bleeding.

Clean the wound no matter how small it is. Cleaning will reduce the chance of infection. Just use ordinary tap water. Some antiseptics may damage skin tissue and delay healing.

After cleaning, cover the wound with a sterile, non-sticky dressing.

Many people deal with minor cuts by themselves. The following gives a guide as to when to consider getting medical help.

  • Ideally, a doctor or nurse should clean wounds that are large, deep or dirty, and abrasions caused by gravel. There is a risk of infection and also a risk of permanent tattooing of the skin from gravel or dirt which remains in a wound.
  • Wounds longer than 5 cm or which involve deeper tissues than the skin may need stitches.
  • If part of the wound has dead or damaged skin then this may need to be trimmed or removed to prevent infection developing in it.
  • If you suspect the cut has damaged deeper tissues such as nerves, tendons, or joints.
  • Wounds caused by penetrating glass, metal, etc, may need to be carefully examined and may need an X-ray to check that there is nothing left inside.
  • Gaping wounds should be closed with stitches, glue, or sticky tape. Even small gaping wounds on the face are best dealt with by a doctor to keep scarring to a minimum. Most wounds are closed straightaway. However, a doctor may advise waiting for a few days before closing certain wounds. For example, if the wound is more than six hours old, if it is infected, or if it is at high risk of becoming infected, such as a wound contaminated with manure. This delayed closure aims to make sure the wound is not infected before closing it up.
  • You should have a tetanus booster if you are not up to date with your immunisations.
  • Antibiotic medicines are not needed in most cases. However, a course of antibiotics may be advised in some situations where there is a high risk of a wound infection developing. These include:
    • Wounds to the feet (especially if you have poor circulation to the feet).
    • Wounds with jagged edges.
    • Wounds contaminated with soil, manure or stools (faeces).
    • Deep puncture wounds.
    • Wounds in older people.
    • If your resistance to infection is low. Examples include:
      • If you are on chemotherapy or taking steroid tablets.
      • If you have no working spleen.
      • If you have diabetes.
      • If you have alcohol dependence.
      • If you have AIDS.

Note: for information on bites, see separate leaflets called Dog and Cat Bites and Human Bites.

The most common complication is an infection of the wound. See a doctor if the skin surrounding a wound becomes more tender, painful, swollen, red or inflamed over the following few days.

In some cases, as the wound heals, the colour in the skin darkens around the scar. This change in skin colour is called hyperpigmentation. This may be prevented if you use high-factor sunscreen regularly for 6-12 months on healing wounds that are exposed to sunshine.

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Further reading & references

Original Author:
Dr Tim Kenny
Current Version:
Dr Jan Sambrook
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
4821 (v40)
Last Checked:
02 November 2016
Next Review:
02 November 2019
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The information on this page is written and peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

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