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First Aid for Lacerations (Cuts): A Treatment Guide

First Aid for Lacerations (Cuts): A Treatment Guide
Life is full of sharp objects, and our bodies are not quite puncture-proof. Lacerations, cuts, and other such wounds are bound to happen eventually. It doesn’t matter if you cut your leg on a jagged rock in the middle of the woods or slice your finger on a clean kitchen knife. If left untreated, even the smallest laceration can spell big trouble. When it comes to lacerations, odds are your standard Band-Aid isn’t going to cut it. So, how do you treat a cut, and when do you need Urgent Care assistance? 

How to Treat Lacerations: A Step-By-Step Guide

Unfortunately, there isn’t one-size-fits-all first-aid for lacerations, as treatment depends on the size, severity, and location of the injury. That said, there are a few standard treatments that you can use as a starting point to treat almost any cut. Here’s a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to treat basic lacerations and when to seek additional medical help or emergency care.

Stop the Bleeding

Before you can start treating a laceration, you need to stop the bleeding. Start by wrapping and compressing the wound and elevating it at or above heart level, if possible, for around 15 minutes. Putting pressure on the wound for a prolonged period will give the blood time to clot and give your body time to begin the healing process. If there is debris inside the laceration, such as shards of broken glass or splinters of wood, remove them before applying pressure. If, at any point during the treatment process, the wound reopens and begins bleeding again, stop what you’re doing and re-apply pressure until the bleeding stops. If the wound is still bleeding heavily after applying pressure, or the blood is bright red and squirting or pulsating, the victim needs immediate emergency care. In this case, you may need to consider applying a tourniquet. A tourniquet is a last resort in dire situations, as restricting blood flow for prolonged periods can be very dangerous. 

Disinfect the Injury

Once the wound stops bleeding, it’s time to begin treating it. One of the biggest concerns when it comes to lacerations is the risk of infection. Thoroughly cleaning the wound is critical to the treatment process. Start by rinsing the laceration with clean, warm water, and washing the surrounding area with a mild soap. Avoid cleaning the wound with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide as it could cause tissue damage and slow the healing process.

Close the Wound

It is not always necessary to close a laceration, as most cuts can heal on their own given enough time.  If a wound is large enough to require stitches, cover it loosely in gauze to protect and keep it clean and visit your local Urgent Care Center for professional sutures. Do not attempt to close the wound yourself by any means, either by stitches, butterfly clips, or other means. If the injury is not scrupulously clean, you risk sealing an infection inside your body, which can have dangerous complications. 

Apply Bandages

Once the wound has been closed, you must protect it from additional dirt, debris, or bacteria.  Cover the wound in sterile gauze. Then, wrap the area with roller gauze tightly enough so the wrapping will not slip, but loosely enough that you don’t cut off blood circulation. Finally, secure the wrapping with medical tape or wrap clips.

Pain Relief

Finally, once you finish treating and covering the laceration, you can focus on addressing any additional discomfort. Standard ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help regulate any pain you may experience due to your injury. Keep in mind that both ibuprofen and acetaminophen each come with an array of potential side effects. Take into account any health conditions you may have or medications you may be on before taking either.

Changing the Dressing

To ensure your laceration doesn’t get infected, you’re going to need to check it and change your wrapping at least once a day. When changing your dressing, start by washing your hands with disinfectant soap. Carefully unwrap the used bandage and dispose of it. Even if it doesn’t look dirty, throw it away, and get a fresh one. Next, gently but thoroughly clean the wound and the affected area with warm water and mild soap. Pat the area dry using a clean cloth and reapply antibacterial ointment. Finally, apply a fresh, sterile dressing to the wound. When changing the bandages on a laceration, always take some time to inspect the wound to make sure it’s healing correctly and to check for redness, swelling, pus, pain, or other signs of infection. Avoid the urge to touch, poke or pick at the wound, which will delay healing and risks introducing bacteria to the cut. 

When to Seek Professional Help

While you can treat smaller lacerations at home, there are a few instances when you should seek out help from a healthcare professional. When it comes to treating lacerations, there are two primary concerns: blood loss and infection. Blood loss is serious. Call 911 if:
  • Bleeding is due to a broken bone piercing through the skin.
  • Blood is bright red and squirting with every heartbeat. 
  • The injury is caused by a stab or gunshot wound.
  • The cut will not stop bleeding after reasonable compression time.
  • The victim loses consciousness, even if it does not appear much blood has been lost. 
  • The cut will not stop bleeding due to an underlying condition, like diabetes. 

When to Seek Urgent Care

Even if the victim does not require emergency care, many deep or long lacerations will require stitches. Once the bleeding has stopped, go to your nearest Urgent Care Center for sutures and professional advice on aftercare.  If the wound is on your hand or foot, you run a much higher risk of infection. Even if the laceration appears minor, it is a good idea to seek Urgent Care treatment if the wound is in a high-risk area for infection.  Infection from lacerations can be fatal if left untreated.  If, after a few days, you notice redness streaking or radiating away from your laceration, or if the injury swells and begins draining pus, it could be infected. Heat and pain are also signs of infection. You should consult and Urgent Care professional as soon as possible if you suspect infection. The longer an infection grows, the harder it will be to treat.  If you’re not sure if the injury requires stitches, seek advice from an Urgent Care expert. They can administer sutures, or will clean, wrap, and advise you on how to care for lacerations that do not require stitches.  If you can’t make it to a clinic, CityHealth Urgent care offers Virtual Visits, where you can video chat with a clinician from the comfort of your home! Click here to book a Virtual Visit today

First-Aid 101: Treating Lacerations

Treating and caring for lacerations isn’t something you should take lightly. It doesn’t matter how small you cut is, if it gets infected, you could be in a lot of trouble. If you have any concerns about treating your laceration or think an older wound may be infected, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Urgent Care experts at CityHealth Urgent Care. 
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