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When should you visit a doctor for a cut?

The glass shatters. A brick flies through the window. Your spouse is cut and bleeding, but otherwise okay. The streets are clogged with protestors. There isn’t an ambulance available, and even if you could get to the hospital, it would be crowded. Should you battle the crowd or remain calm? The timeliness of seeing a doctor for a laceration is determined by a variety of factors.

There’s not much you can do with these wounds other than stop the bleeding and get to a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Cuts that have penetrated the abdominal cavity (because of the danger of undetected bleeding and the high risk of serious infections).
  • Wounds in the neck with a lot of bleeding or that endanger the airway.
  • A large vessel is cut. (The blood usually spurts, and the tissue distal to the wound becomes cool and dark.) If a surgical reconnection isn’t performed within hours, necrosis of tissue occurs due to lack of blood flow. Then comes surgical excision or infection, with the risk of sickness and even death.

The most serious injuries, such as those that require surgical repair or multiple operations (but not both), are referred to as “catastrophic injuries.” Most of these cuts can simply be cleaned and bandaged. In the situations below, make sure to clean the wound thoroughly and consider taking an antibiotic, or at least utilize an antibiotic ointment. Then try to visit a doctor within a day or two.

  • You have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or another illness. (You heal more slowly and your wounds are more prone to infection.)
  • The edges of the wound begin to ooze a cloudy pus, or your tissue surrounding the cut becomes swollen, more painful, or redder.
  • You believe the injury has damaged the bone. If at all feasible, you want to avoid a bone infection. It’s far more difficult to treat and can cause significant damage.
  • The wound is too deep, filthy, or painful to adequately clean.
  • You haven’t had a tetanus vaccination in more than ten years.

Some wounds affect more than just the skin. If you can, go to a doctor as soon as possible if:

  • There’s numbness distally (on the side farthest from the heart). You may have injured a nerve.
  • You’ve lost joint range of motion. You might have sliced a tendon that needs to be mended.

Photo by cottonbro/Pexels

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