Treating Cuts and Puncture Wounds

Warm weather offers more opportunities for outdoor activities, and those activities offer more ways to get scrapes, cuts and puncture wounds.

“There’s definitely an increase in these types of injuries during the warmer times of the year,” said James G. Guerrini, MD, medical director of Wake Forest Baptist Health Urgent Care. “Fortunately, most of them are minor and can be treated effectively at home.”

In the event of a laceration (cut), abrasion (scrape) or puncture wound, the first thing to do is determine if it is serious. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends calling 911 if the wound is very large or deep, the bleeding is severe or the injured person has lost feeling or function in the area of the wound.

The NIH also recommends going to an emergency or urgent care center if the wound is on the face or near a bone, has been caused by a human or animal bite or a rusty object or has an object or debris stuck in it.

Otherwise, the wound probably can be treated with simple first aid.

“Cuts and scrapes are common, so everybody should know how to deal with them,” Guerrini said. “Proper treatment administered quickly can prevent infection, promote healing and otherwise keep something minor from becoming something major.”

The American College of Emergency Physicians recommends the following steps to treat minor cuts, scrapes and punctures:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or antibacterial cleanser
  • Stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the injured area with a clean cloth, paper towel or piece of gauze
  • Wash the wound with clean, cool water and mild soap
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment to reduce chance of infection
  • Place a sterile bandage on the wound

In most instances, the bandage can be removed after a couple of days and the wound will heal gradually. But if the wound doesn’t appear to be healing, shows signs of infection (such as redness, swelling or pus) or is a source of pain, a doctor should be consulted.

There’s one other factor to consider whenever the skin is broken: tetanus, a potentially serious illness carried by bacteria that can enter the skin through cuts and puncture wounds. Tetanus infections can be prevented by vaccination, but the protection doesn’t last forever. Adults should get a tetanus shot or booster every 10 years, so it’s a good idea to check with your family physician to make sure your shots are up to date.