Emergency Care For You

Emergencies A-Z

Cuts and Abrasions

Most cuts are minor, but it's still important to care for them. Most can be treated by cleaning with soap and water and applying a clean bandage. You also may want to treat the cut with an antibiotic ointment. If you delay care for only a few hours, even a minor wound can build enough bacteria to cause a serious infection and increase your risk of a noticeable scar.

Puncture wounds may not seem very serious, but because germs and debris are carried deep into the tissues, a physician evaluation may be needed. In addition, antibiotics or a tetanus shot may be required.

Seek medical attention for a cut or a wound that shows any of the following signs:

  • Long or deep cuts that need stitches
  • Cuts over a joint
  • Cuts from an animal or human bite
  • Cuts that may impair function of a body area, such as an eyelid or lip
  • Cuts that remove all the layers of the skin, like slicing off the tip of a finger
  • Cuts caused by metal objects or puncture wound
  • Cuts over a possible broken bone
  • Cuts that are deep, jagged or "gaping" open
  • Cuts that have damaged underling nerves, tendons or joints
  • Cuts that have foreign materials, such as dirt, glass, metal or chemicals embedded in them
  • Cuts that show signs of infection, such as fever, swelling, redness, a pungent smell, pus or fluid draining from the area
  • Cuts that include problems with movement or sensation, or increased pain 

Seek emergency care if:

  • The wound is still bleeding after a few minutes of steady, firm pressure with a cloth or bandage
  • Signs of shock occur
  • Breathing is difficult because of a cut to the neck or chest
  • There is a cut to the eyeball
  • There is a cut that amputates or partially amputates an extremity
  • There is a deep cut to the abdomen that causes moderate to severe pain

A tetanus shot may be required if you have not had one within 10 years or if you are unsure of when you last had one. Tetanus is a bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and is often fatal. Although most people are aware that stepping on a rusty nail or a puncture wound can cause a tetanus infection, most people do not know that tetanus bacteria can also enter the body even through a tiny pinprick, a scratch from an animal, splinters, bug bites and even burns that break the skin.