Your skin takes a lot of abuse as it protects your insides from the outside world. It withstands bumps and bruises, burns and bug bites, but when you cut it open, all bets are off. That’s because the barrier has been broken and bacteria can creep in and cause infection.
Wound care is critical even for minor cuts and scrapes, so it’s important to educate yourself on the right steps to take anytime you break the skin. Joseph Goin, MD, and our team here at Calvary Urgent Care, in Humble, Texas, see a lot of wounds of every kind, ranging from minor to life-threatening. So we’ve compiled this guide to help you feel confident about how to treat wounds at home and how to identify wounds that need our professional help.
How to handle wound care at home
Minor cuts that are small, shallow, and stop bleeding when you apply direct pressure can usually be cared for at home. Here’s what to do:
- Make sure your hands are clean
- Sterilize any tools you might use, like tweezers
- Remove any obvious debris like gravel or glass
- Clean the wound, but avoid getting soap in the cut
- Apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding
- Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment
- Cover the wound with a bandage or gauze pad
Change the bandage every day, and make sure it stays clean and dry.
When to seek medical attention for your wound
If you’ve been caring for your wound at home, but it’s still bleeding after a day or two, it’s time to get help. Here are some of the other telltale signs that should alert you to come in and see us immediately.
The edges are uneven
If the edges of your wound are clean and straight, there’s a good chance it will heal well naturally. But if there’s skin missing or the edges are jagged, you may need stitches or expert bandaging. Sometimes, even if the edges are straight, they just won’t knit together. If you notice this, it’s time to get professional help.
You can’t get it clean
It can be difficult — and painful — to thoroughly clean your wound. If you have deeply embedded debris and can’t get it out, or it hurts too much to try, we can help. If necessary, we can even use a local anesthetic to keep you comfortable during the process.
The cause of the wound was unsanitary
Anytime you get cut, there’s at least a small chance of infection, but if the thing that caused your cut or wound is clearly contaminated, rusty, or dirty, it’s important to come in so we can sterilize the wound and give you a tetanus shot if yours isn’t up-to-date.
Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a serious disease you can get from bacteria that are easily introduced into your body through an open wound. To prevent this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a tetanus booster vaccine every 10 years for adults.
Animal bites are another type of wound that require professional medical care to prevent infection and rabies.
You see signs of infection
The overriding goal of wound care is to keep infection out of the equation. If you experience any of the following, come see us right away:
- Fever and chills
- Warm skin around the wound
- Yellow or green oozing
- A bad odor from the wound
- Red lines or streaks around the wound
- Aches, pain, nausea, or vomiting
If infection does set in, we prescribe antibiotics to help your body fight it. We also monitor your wound closely and keep it clean and properly dressed.
If you don’t get your infected wound treated by a professional health care provider, you put yourself at risk for more serious problems: the infection can advance into your bones and your bloodstream and cause limb- or life-threatening conditions.