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What to Do About Cuts

Getting a cut every now and then is part of being a kid. Luckily, most cuts are small and can be cared for at home. But some cuts need medical care.

When Should I Get Medical Care for a Cut?

Get medical care right away if a cut:

  • is deep or its edges are widely separated
  • continues to ooze and bleed even after you apply pressure
  • was caused by a bite (animal or human)
  • is a puncture wound (such as from a nail)

When Should I Call 911 for a Cut?

Call 911 if your child:

  • has a body part, such as a fingertip, that is cut off. Put the part that was cut off in a sealed plastic bag right away. Put the bag in a container with ice water.
  • has a cut and the blood is spurting out and hard to control
  • is bleeding so much that bandages are becoming soaked with blood

How Do I Treat a Serious Cut?

If the cut is severe and you can't get your child to an ER right away or must wait for an ambulance, begin this treatment:

  • Rinse the cut or wound with water and apply pressure with sterile gauze, a bandage, or a clean cloth.
  • If blood soaks through the bandage, put another bandage on top of the first and keep applying pressure.
  • Raise the injured body part to slow bleeding.
  • When bleeding stops, cover the wound with a new, clean bandage.
  • Do not use a tourniquet.

How Do I Treat a Minor Cut?

First, wash your hands. Then, rinse off the cut with water so you can see it clearly and check its size.

If the cut is bleeding:

  • Put a piece of sterile gauze or a clean cloth over the cut. Wear clean latex or rubber gloves if you have them. Apply pressure with your hand for 5–10 minutes without peeking to check the cut. Then, if the cut is still bleeding, keep applying pressure for 5–10 minutes more.
  • If blood soaks through the gauze, do not remove it. Put another gauze pad on top and keep applying pressure.
  • If you can, raise the bleeding body part above the level of the child's heart. Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • If the bleeding doesn’t stop after 15–20 minutes, take your child for medical care or call 911.

If the cut is not bleeding or you were able to stop the bleeding:

  • Rinse the cut well with water to clean out dirt and debris.
  • Wash the skin around the cut with a mild soap and rinse well. (You don't need to use an antiseptic solution. They can cause skin reactions.)
  • Cover the wound with a clean bandage or clean gauze and tape.
  • Change the bandage each day or any time it gets wet.
  • After the wound forms a scab, a bandage isn't needed.

Clean and check the cut each day. Call your doctor if it is red, swollen, tender, warm, or draining pus, or if your child gets a fever.

Antibiotic cream or ointment isn’t needed for most minor cuts as long as they are kept clean as they heal. Doctors and nurses sometimes suggest antibiotic cream or ointment for some cuts. You can call the doctor’s office to see if they recommend it for your child’s cut.

What Can Help Prevent Cuts?

To help prevent cuts:

  • Childproof so that infants and toddlers are less likely to fall or get injured on table corners, sharp objects, or doors that may slam shut.
  • Be sure your kids wear shoes when playing outside.
  • Watch teens when they use sharp knives.

What Else Should I Know?

Make sure that your kids are up to date on their tetanus vaccine. It 's part of the DTaP vaccine that children get routinely. The germ that causes tetanus lives in dirt and can get into cuts. If your child gets a cut that is dirty (or caused by a dirty or rusty object) and you’re not sure of their last tetanus shot, call the doctor’s office. Your child might need a tetanus booster shot.

Keep cuts protected from the sun. A cut that gets tanned or burned will end up with more of a scar. Even after a cut is fully healed, the new skin will tan and burn more easily. Covering a healed or healing cut with clothes or sunscreen will help make a scar less noticeable.

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date Reviewed: Oct 11, 2022

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