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When Does a Cut Mean a Trip to the ER?

What is the first thing I should do when a loved one or I get a cut?

Wash your hands. If the cut is bleeding, use gauze or a clean towel to apply direct pressure for 10 full minutes by the clock. Look at the wound after the bleeding has stopped.

When do I need to go to the emergency room? 

Cuts need physician evaluation and repair if the edges are gaping apart, if you can see deep tissue (dark red muscle, yellowish fat, bone), if there is dirt or debris in the wound, if you can feel a foreign body in the wound, or if the cut continues bleeding after you have applied direct pressure for 10 full minutes. 

How soon do I need to see a doctor for stitches?

Come in as soon as possible. The risk of infection becomes very high after 12 hours. Tetanus (“lockjaw”) is also a concern, especially for children and in cuts that are contaminated with dirt or plant matter.

What do I do afterward?

Ask the doctor for specific instructions on wound care. Generally, they will include keeping the wound dry for 24 to 48 hours after getting it treated and watching for signs of infection (redness, swelling).

When should the stitches come out?

It depends on the repair. Stitches on the face generally are removed in 5 days to prevent scars. Stitches used to repair areas of high skin tension (over joints, for example) will generally be removed in 10 to 14 days. Some stitches are absorbable and fall out on their own in about 7 days. Tissue glue used to repair lacerations generally lasts for about 7 days before falling off.

Dr. Davis is board-certified in emergency medicine and Chief of Emergency Medicine at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. He earned his medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He completed his internship at Scripps Mercy Hospital and a residency in emergency medicine at the University of California – San Diego. 

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