How do you know when a cut, puncture or scrape needs advanced medical assistance? Although minor injuries rarely require a trip to the emergency room, assessing the danger and reacting appropriately can save wounds from infection or other complications.
Step-by-Step First Aid for Cuts
Tips for Simple Wound Care summarized from Mayo Clinic Guidelines
1. Stop the bleeding. Apply gentle pressure with a clean bandage or cloth (or your hand if you have nothing else). Elevate if possible and hold pressure continuously for 20 to 30 minutes. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, seek assistance. Don’t try to shut off all blood flow (thus oxygen) by using a tourniquet. They are used only for very severe injuries!
2. Clean the wound. Rinse with clear water. Keep soap out of the actual wound because it can irritate it. If there is still dirt or debris in the wound after washing, use tweezers cleaned with alcohol to remove the particles. If debris remains, see your doctor. Cleaning around the wound with soap and water, plus cleaning the wound thoroughly with water reduces the risk of infection and tetanus. No need for hydrogen peroxide, iodine or an iodine-containing cleanser.
3. Apply an antibiotic. After cleaning the wound, apply a thin layer of antibiotic cream or ointment to keep the wound moist. These products discourage infection and help your body’s natural healing process, but don’t actually speed up healing per se. Use sparingly and follow package directions carefully. If a rash appears, stop using the ointment. Do not use on serious injuries before asking your doctor.
4. Cover the wound. Bandages help keep the wound clean and the bacteria out. After you’re out of the woods for infection, exposure to the air will speed wound healing.
5. Change the dressing. Change the wound dressing at least daily or whenever wet or dirty. If you’re allergic to the adhesive bandages, switch to adhesive-free dressings or sterile gauze pads held in place with paper tape, gauze roll or a loosely applied elastic bandage.
6. Get stitches for deep wounds. A wound that is more than 1/4-inch deep or is gaping or jagged edged and has fat or muscle protruding usually requires stiches. Adhesive strips or butterfly closures may hold a minor cut, but if you can’t easily close the wound, see your doctor as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection.
7. Watch for signs of infection. See your doctor if the wound isn’t healing or you notice any redness, increasing pain, drainage, warmth or swelling.
8. Get a tetanus shot. Docs recommend you get a tetnus shot every 10 years. If your wound is dirty or deep and you haven’t had a shot for more than 5 years, you may need a tetanus booster.
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