Cuts are open wounds through the skin. Normally the skin is under
slight, constant tension as it covers the body. A cut is a forceful injury to
the skin. Many people accidentally cut themselves with household or work items,
yard tools, or when operating machinery. Children often are cut during play and
sports activities, or from falls while riding wheeled toys, such as bikes,
scooters, or skateboards. Most cuts are minor and home treatment is usually all
that is needed.
Cuts can be caused by:
Blunt objects that tear or crush the skin (lacerations). These cuts are more common over bony
areas, such as a finger, hand, knee, or foot, but they can occur anywhere on
the body. Blunt object injuries usually cause more swelling and tissue damage
and leave jagged edges, so problems with healing may
Sharp-edged pointed objects pressing into and slicing the skin
tissue (incised wounds). Sharp object injuries are more likely to cut deeper
and damage underlying tissue.
Cuts that open
with movement of the body area, such as a cut over a joint. A cut over a joint
may take a long time to heal because of the movement of the wound
Cuts that may scar and affect the appearance or function of
a body area. A cut on an eyelid or lip which doesn't heal well may interfere
with function or leave a noticeable scar.
Cuts that remove all of
the layers of the skin (avulsion injuries), such as slicing off
the tip of a finger. An avulsion injury may take a long time to
Cuts from an animal or human bite. Infection is more likely
with a bite injury.
Cuts that have damage to underlying tissues.
Injuries to nerves, tendons, or joints are more common with cuts on the hands
or feet. Slight swelling, bruising, and tenderness around a cut,
bite, scrape, or puncture wound is normal. Swelling or
bruising that begins within 30 minutes of the injury often means there is a
large amount of bleeding or that damage to deeper tissues is present.
Cuts over a possible broken bone. Bacteria can get into a
cut over a broken bone and infect the bone.
Cuts caused by a
crushing injury. With this type of injury, the cut may have occurred when the
skin split open from the force of the injury. The force of the injury may also
damage underlying tissues and blood vessels. Crush injuries have a high risk of
Cuts with a known or suspected object, such as glass or
wood, in the wound.
Injury to the skin may also break small blood vessels under the skin
and cause more swelling and bruising than you would expect.
Cuts to the head or face may appear worse than they are and
bleed a lot because of the good blood supply to this area. Controlling the
bleeding will allow you to determine the seriousness of the injury.
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Minor cuts usually can be treated
at home. If you do not have an increased chance of getting an infection, do
not have other injuries, and do not need treatment by a doctor or a tetanus shot, you can clean and bandage a cut at home. Home treatment can help
prevent infection and promote healing.
Nonprescription products are available to be applied to the
skin to help stop mild bleeding of minor cuts, lacerations, or abrasions.
Before you buy or use one, be sure to read the label carefully and follow the
label's instructions when you apply the product.
After you have
stopped the bleeding, check your symptoms to determine if and
when you need to see your doctor.
Clean the wound
Clean the wound as soon as possible
to reduce the chance of infection, scarring, and tattooing of the skin from
dirt left in the wound.
Wash the wound for 5 minutes with large amounts
of cool water and soap (mild dishwashing soap, such as Ivory, works well). Some nonprescription products are available for wound
cleaning that numb the area so that cleaning doesn't hurt as much. Be sure to
read the product label for correct use.
Don't use rubbing alcohol,
hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or Mercurochrome, which can harm the tissue and slow
Stitches, staples, or skin adhesives (also called liquid stitches)
will tell you how to
take care of your stitches or staples and when to
return to have them removed.
Skin adhesives usually do not need to be removed, but your doctor may wish to
see you to check on the wound. Be sure to carefully follow your doctor's
instructions. If you are unsure of how to care for your wound or have
questions, call your doctor for instructions.
Consider applying a bandage
Most cuts heal well and
may not need a bandage. You may need to protect the cut from dirt and
irritation. Be sure to clean the cut thoroughly before bandaging it to
reduce the risk of infection occurring under the bandage.
Select the bandage carefully. There are many
products available. Liquid skin bandages and moisture-enhancing bandages are
available with other first aid products. Before you buy or use one, be sure to
read the label carefully, and follow the label's instructions when you apply
If you use a cloth-like bandage, apply a clean bandage
when it gets wet or soiled to further help prevent infection. If a bandage is
stuck to a scab, soak it in warm water to soften the scab and make the bandage
easier to remove. If available, use a nonstick dressing. There are many bandage
products available. Be sure to read the product label for correct
signs of infection. If you have an infection under a
bandage, a visit to your doctor may be needed.
ointment, such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin,
will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. Apply the ointment lightly to
the wound. Antibiotic ointments have not been shown to improve healing. Be sure
to read the product label about skin sensitivity. If you have a skin rash or
itching under the bandage, stop using the ointment. The rash may be caused by
an allergic reaction to the ointment.
Use an adhesive strip to
hold the edges of a wound together. Always put an adhesive strip across a wound
to hold the edges together, not lengthwise. You can
make a butterfly bandage at home or purchase one to help hold the skin edges
You may have a localized
reaction to a tetanus shot. Symptoms include warmth, swelling, and redness at
the injection site. A fever of up to
100°F (37.8°C) may occur. Home
treatment can help reduce the discomfort.
An ice or cold pack may help reduce swelling and bruising. Never apply ice
directly to a wound or the skin. This could cause tissue damage.
Elevate the injured area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you
are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your
heart to reduce swelling.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow
these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all
directions on the medicine bottle and box.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.