With families and friends gathering around the holidays, we often see an uptick in injuries at our emergency department and urgent care centers. While many times there are things you can do to treat your injury at home, it’s important to know when to seek care, and more importantly, where to go.
One of the most common injuries we see are cuts or lacerations. Whether they’re caused by chopping veggies for holiday meals, or a fall while playing outside, here are a few immediate things you should do as part of first aid care if you accidentally cut yourself and the cut is minor or moderate.
1. Stop the Bleeding
First, your goal is to control the bleeding. Use a clean piece of gauze, tissue or cloth and apply firm pressure to the wound for one to two minutes or until the bleeding stops. If blood soaks through the material, apply another layer of material on top of it without removing the first layer.
If the cut is on your arm or leg, try to raise your limb above your heart. This can help slow the bleeding.
You shouldn’t need to use a tourniquet unless the bleeding is severe and doesn’t stop after several minutes of applying pressure. If the bleeding is this severe, call 911.
2. Wash Your Hands
Now that the bleeding is under control, wash your hands for at least 15 seconds with soap and warm water before dressing the wound. This reduces the risk of infection.
3. Clean the Cut
Once your hands are clean, carefully wash the cut with soap and warm water. Thoroughly rinse the injured area to avoid irritation from the soap. Don’t use iodine or hydrogen peroxide to clean the cut—these products can cause tissue damage and do more harm than good.
4. Dress the Wound
Gently apply petroleum jelly from a tube (not a jar—this prevents cross-contamination) to the wound. Cover the area with a clean, sterile bandage. Then, wash your hands again. Be sure to change the bandage daily to keep the cut clean and dry.
If the cut is painful, you can take over-the-counter pain medication to reduce discomfort.
When to Seek Medical Care for a Cut
Go to Urgent Care if:
- The cut is gaping open, deep or jagged around the edges
- The wound was caused by a human or animal bite
- There’s dirt or debris stuck inside the wound
- The cut is deep and you haven’t had a tetanus shot within the last five years
- You haven’t had a tetanus shot within the last 10 years
You should also go to urgent care if you notice signs of infection, such as:
- A fever
- Redness, red streaks, tenderness or discharge around the cut
Call 911 if:
- The cut is bleeding severely
- Blood is spurting from the wound
- The bleeding doesn’t stop after you apply firm pressure for 10 minutes
- You think you may have internal bleeding.