Cuts, sometimes referred to as lacerations, are breaks or openings in the skin, typically caused by a sharp-edged instrument or object. Cuts can be superficial, affecting only the surface area of the skin, or deep, impacting muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and even bone. Puncture wounds are usually caused by pointed objects such as knives, nails or sharp teeth, as in an animal bite.
Causes of cuts, lacerations and animal bites
Most cuts and puncture wounds are caused by external injuries that break the skin, including:
- Broken glass
- Razor cuts
- Car accidents
The most likely causes of puncture wounds are:
- Falls onto sharp objects
- Stepping on sharp objects
What to do if a cut or puncture wound becomes infected
If the skin surrounding the wound becomes red, swollen, warm and painful, or if the wound oozes pus (a greenish, yellow fluid), it may be infected and in need of medical care. If the skin is streaked red, this could indicate an infection of the lymph system, the system that drains fluid from the tissues. This type of infection, particularly when accompanied by a fever, can be serious and requires immediate medical attention.
Some types of wounds are more likely to become infected than others. These include:
- Puncture wounds
- Foot wounds
- Untreated wounds
- Crushing injuries
- Dirty wounds
Treatment for cuts and lacerations or puncture wounds
First, wash your hands to avoid infecting the area. It’s important to thoroughly clean the wound and the area surrounding it to avoid the risk of infection or tetanus. If you have a pair of disposable gloves, use them. Elevate the wound and apply direct pressure to stop bleeding. Clean and rinse the wound, and then clean around the wound with soap and water. Be careful to keep the soap out of the actual wound to avoid irritation. (If dirt still remains, try copious irrigation with water before heading to the nearest MD Now Urgent Care.) Stay away from irritating cleansers such as iodine or hydrogen peroxide.
After cleansing, apply a thin layer of antibiotic cream or ointment such as Neosporin to keep the surface moist. This will discourage infection and encourage the body’s natural healing process. (If you develop a rash, discontinue use of the ointment.) For scratches and minor scrapes, leave the injury uncovered. For deeper wounds, cover the area to keep it clean and keep out harmful bacteria.
For Puncture Wounds:
Wash your hands to avoid infection. Rinse the puncture site under cool, running water for five minutes, before washing with soap. Carefully check to ensure there are no objects in the wound, being careful not to probe too deeply. Apply antibacterial ointment and a clean, nonstick bandage, before going to your nearest MD Now Urgent Care for further treatment.
If any of the following applies, do not treat the wound on your own. You should seek immediate medical care at the nearest MD Now Urgent Care.
- The wound is large or deep, regardless of whether bleeding is severe.
- The wound is more than a quarter inch deep, or reaches the bone. Stitches may be required.
- The wound is on the face or on a part of your body that is a concern for serious scarring.
- You have a hand or foot wound that limits function or movement.
- The wound is caused by a human or animal bite.
- Any cut or puncture caused by a fishhook, a nail, or any rusty object.
- An object or debris is stuck. Important: Do not remove the object yourself.
- The wound shows signs of infection such as warmth and redness, a painful or throbbing sensation, fever, swelling and/or pus-like drainage.
- You haven’t had a tetanus shot within the last 5-10 years.
Treating bad cuts, deep lacerations or puncture wounds
Deep laceration treatment should be left to the experienced medical professionals at your nearest MD Now Urgent Care.
Here’s what to expect once you arrive:
- The first step is to stop the bleeding.
- You may be given medication to numb the area.
- Your wound will be thoroughly cleaned to avoid infection.
- Your doctor will assess the wound and determine the best way to repair it.
- For minor cuts, a special adhesive tape such as SteriStrips or tissue glue like Dermabond may be used to close the wound.
- Wounds that are missing skin, such as fingertip injuries, may need a special dressing with a material such as Gelfoam.
- Deeper cuts may require interior, absorbable stitches in addition to exterior stitches.
- To stop bleeding, protect tissue and reduce scarring, stitches may be applied to the surface of the skin.
- A tetanus immunization may be needed if the wound is contaminated, and it has been longer than five years since your last immunization.
When and where to get stitches
If necessary, MD Now can help you get stitches fast. Your doctor will determine the need for stitches based on your particular wound. If necessary, the stitches will be applied at the time of your visit.
Your doctor will use the following guidelines to determine when stitches are appropriate:
- Unless you have allergies to adhesives tapes, a minor cut may be treated with a product like SteriStrips or tissue glue like Dermabond or Indermil. Tissue glue provides a barrier against common bacterial microbes.
- Deeper cuts may require stitches to repair the fascia, the connective tissue envelope surrounding a muscle.
- Stitches may also be used to stop bleeding, protect the underlying tissue and reduce scarring.
Additional care for animal bites
Depending on the type of bite and its severity, your MD Now doctor will take the following steps:
- Evaluate the site for risk of infection
- Assess the site for broken or embedded teeth or other foreign material that could lead to infection
- Determine whether there may be underlying nerve, tendon or blood vessel damage
- Analyze the type of animal and whether there’s a risk of rabies, the circumstances of the bite and whether the patient is up to date on tetanus
Certain types of bites require immediate medical attention. These include:
- Dog bites, due to the crushing mechanism of the bite
- Cat bites, due to the puncture mechanism of the bite
- Any bite caused by a wild animal or stray dog or cat
- Human bites due to the high risk for infection that could lead to serious complications
- Any bite with the possibility of teeth, dirt or other matter infecting the wound
- Bites that cause excessive bleeding
- Bites causing numbness to the wound area or another area of the body
- Bites with other symptoms or special concerns
Possible complications from untreated cuts, lacerations or puncture wounds
Left untreated, a cut or puncture wound may lead to complications such as:
- Blood infection (Sepsis)
- Loss of function or movement
- Nerve damage
- Organ damage
When and where to get stitches removed
In cases with an increased risk of infection, or where bandage changing could prove difficult, your MD Now doctor may recommend a wound check after one to two days. Removal of stitches is usually done at the MD Now Urgent Care office within 5 to 14 days, depending on the location of the stitches.
Some exceptions include:
- Facial stitches: These may be removed after four to five days and usually no later than seven days. This is to prevent scarring and because healing occurs faster in this part of the body.
- Hand sutures: These may be left in for 14 days or longer due to slower healing and greater tension on the wound.
“The above is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. If you require medical advice or treatment, you should go to MD Now Urgent Care, your physician, or the nearest ER for evaluation.”