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Emergency Medical Services

What To Do If Someone Gets Cut (Shallow VS Deep Cuts)

Paring knives can slip and cut a finger. Glass cups can fall and injure a foot. Kittens can claw and leave wounds on an arm. Accidents will happen, and it’s always good to know what to do when the inevitable occurs. 

A cut may seem like nothing to worry about, but any break in the skin can pose a risk for an infection. The skin prevents bacteria from getting into the body, and a cut compromises that protection. Being prepared and knowing how to treat cuts, both shallow and deep, can help keep them from getting infected. It’s also important to understand what things to look out for that might need a trip to the doctor. 

Shallow Cuts

Shallow and small cuts are typically safe to treat at home. Small cuts are less than a third of an inch long, do not bleed profusely, and no tissue below the top layer of skin can be seen. 

For small cuts, the following is recommended: 

  1. Keep calm. If the person injured is a child, it’s important to stay calm so that they feel safe. 
  2. Always wash your hands with soap and water before working with any wound. 
  3. Gently wash the cut to remove any debris or dirt. Use a mild soap or some cleanser and rinse thoroughly. This helps to prevent infections. 
  4. Take a clean washcloth or gauze and keep pressure on the cut. Keep the pressure on the cut for two minutes or until there is no bleeding. 
    • For some larger cuts, pressure might need to be placed on the area for a more extended period, until the bleeding stops. Don’t keep pressure on the cut for more than 15 minutes. 
  5. Petroleum jelly from a tube can be applied to the area. The jelly helps to create a moist environment that promotes healing. If there was debris or dirt in the cut, then antibacterial ointments or creams can be applied. 
  6. Apply a clean bandage on the cut to keep it closed and away from bacteria. This bandage can be changed daily until the cut heals. 
  7. If necessary, over-the-counter pain medication can be administered to reduce pain. Never give a child aspirin. 
  8. When changing the bandage, check for signs of infection like redness, swelling, pus or discharge, or skin discoloration. If any of these occur, consult with a doctor. 

Deep Cuts

For deep or larger cuts, a health professional must be contacted. If a cut has any of the following features, seek medical assistance.

  • The edges of the cut are far apart, and it is difficult to keep the cut closed with gentle pressure. 
  • The cut is located across a joint. (These cuts need to be assessed for any damaged ligaments, nerves,  joints, or tendons. The skin may require special care to keep it from healing inappropriately.)
  • The lower layer of the skin is visible. 
  • Muscle or yellow fatty tissue can be seen. 
  • An animal or human bite caused the cut or wound. (Wounds from any teeth are extremely prone to infection.)
  • The cut is on or around the genitals. 
  • The cut was made from the impact of a bullet, arrow, or even a blunt object. 
  • An extremely dirty or rusty object caused the cut. 
  • The face or neck is involved. 
  • Bleeding does not seem to stop or slow down. 

For cuts that are spurting blood or won’t stop bleeding, get help immediately. 

  1. Cover the cut with a sterile bandage or cloth and put pressure. 
  2. Do not remove the bandage or cloth, even if it gets soaked. 
  3. Place another bandage or cloth over it instead and place pressure. 
  4. Raising the injured area above the head, or as high as possible, can help to reduce bleeding. 

Foreign Objects

Foreign objects that are stuck in the skin or body, like a stick or metal piece, should not be removed and require immediate medical attention. It’s difficult to tell if an object hit something critical, like an artery. Removing the object can create more significant problems. Seek emergency assistance right away. 

Signs of an Infection

It’s always essential to look for signs of infection during the healing process, regardless of the size of the injury. Even tiny cuts can become infected. 

Consult a doctor if you see any of the following signs of infection: 

  • Increased swelling
  • Fever
  • Warmth or heat around the area of the cut
  • Redness around the wound that is expanding further from the wound
  • Yellow or green colored pus, or bloody-white drainage
  • Streaks of red spreading from the injured area
  • Pain or tenderness that doesn’t go away or gets worse

Be Prepared

Accidents and emergencies are a part of life, and it’s essential to be prepared in case of a first aid or emergency situation. Have a first aid emergency kit both in the home and car, and keep it stocked. Keep vaccinations current, including tetanus. Know what medication and allergies family members may have. If possible, have a list of current vaccinations, medications, and allergies on hand. When seeking medical assistance, health professionals will ask questions about those subjects. Being prepared and having answers on hand can allow for a more positive outcome. 


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