A cut (also called a laceration) is a tear or opening in the skin caused by an external injury. It can be superficial, affecting only the surface of your skin or deep enough to involve tendons, muscles, ligaments, and bone.
A puncture wound is a deep wound caused by something sharp and pointed, like a nail. The opening on the skin is small, and the puncture wound may not bleed much. Puncture wounds can easily become infected. A doctor should always examine a deep puncture wound. Puncture wounds caused by a bite or stepping on a rusty piece of metal, like a nail, need prompt medical attention.
A cut can cause external and internal bleeding. A significant cut can cause profuse bleeding if it isn’t treated promptly and properly. Cuts and puncture wounds that cause excessive blood loss or those that damage the organs can be fatal.
The most common causes for cuts and puncture wounds are external injuries that break or tear the skin. These causes include:
- car accidents
- broken glass
- razor cuts
The most common causes for puncture wounds include:
- stepping on sharp objects such as a nail
- getting bitten
- falling onto something sharp
Although puncture wounds don’t normally bleed heavily, they are prone to infection. This is especially true if a bite or a rusty object caused the wound. See your doctor immediately if this is the case.
Although most minor puncture wounds and cuts heal without treatment beyond first aid and home care, some should receive immediate medical attention. Seek emergency medical care if you notice any of the following:
- bleeding is heavy, spurting, or cannot be stopped after 10 minutes of pressure
- feeling and function is impaired in the area of the cut/wound
- muscle or bone is exposed
Contact your doctor immediately if:
- debris is embedded in the cut/wound
- it was caused by a bite
- you haven’t had a tetanus shot in 10 years
- you stepped on an object like a nail
- it was caused by a fish hook
- it shows signs of infection: swelling around the site, throbbing pain, or fluid leaking from the cut/wound
Cuts or puncture wounds that are minor may be treated at home. For more severe cuts or puncture wounds, immediate medical attention is necessary.
First, stop any bleeding by covering the cut and applying gentle pressure. If the cut is bleeding heavily, and you aren’t able to stop it, seek medical treatment immediately.
Next, clean the cut thoroughly with an alcohol wipe, antiseptic wash, or clean water. Dip a cotton swab into hydrogen peroxide and lightly roll it over the area of the cut to clean it. Use tweezers that have been cleaned with alcohol to remove debris on the surface of the cut. If you see debris that is embedded in the cut, do not attempt to remove it. Seek help from your doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room.
Once the cut has been cleaned, apply an antibiotic cream to it. This can prevent infection and speed healing. Apply a bandage to the cut site. Change the bandage daily and whenever it becomes wet or dirty.
Deeper cuts may require medical treatment. Treatment options for deep cuts include stitches, staples, or liquid stitches.
You may also need to take antibiotics to prevent infection.
First, attempt to stop the bleeding by covering the wound with a clean bandage and applying gentle pressure. If the wound is bleeding heavily, and you cannot stop it, immediately seek emergency medical care.
Next, clean the area thoroughly using a small alcohol wipe. Do not attempt to irrigate a puncture wound. If you notice debris embedded into the puncture wound, do not try to remove it. Do not probe the wound if you realize part of the object that caused the wound has broken off. Instead, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Once the skin is clean, apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream to prevent infection. Cover the puncture wound with a bandage. You should change the bandage daily or sooner if it becomes wet or dirty. Check for signs of infection like redness, drainage (pus) from the wound site, or warmth/swelling in the surrounding area.
Your doctor may suggest you have a tetanus vaccine.
Health complications from a cut or puncture wound include:
- infection of the wound
- blood infection (sepsis)
- loss of function in the area containing the wound
- nerve damage
- organ damage
Prevent cuts and puncture wounds by taking the following steps to ensure your physical safety:
- Play in debris-free areas.
- Do not play sports without using proper protective gear.
- Wear shoes and make sure the soles are sturdy and cannot be punctured by a nail.
- Do not use heavy machinery or tools without wearing proper safety equipment and shoes.
- After an accident, quickly clear away debris such as broken glass.
- Dry up spills (especially on slippery surfaces) before running or walking over the surface.