This leaflet gives a guide as to what you should do following a cut.
Press on the wound to stop the bleeding.
Get medical attention if the bleeding is heavy or does not stop soon. See the 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.
Do I need medical attention?
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, dirt, grit, etc, which remain 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 faeces.
- Deep puncture wounds.
- Wounds in older people.
- If your resistance to infection is low. For example, if you are on chemotherapy or taking steroid tablets; have no working spleen; have diabetes; have alcohol dependence; have AIDS, etc.
After dealing with a cut
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 (hyperpigmentation). This may be prevented if you use high-factor sunscreen regularly for 6-12 months on healing wounds that are exposed to sunshine.
Dr Tim Kenny
Dr Jan Sambrook
Dr John Cox