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Ouch! Do I Need Stitches for This Cut?

From kitchen capers and garage mishaps to on-the-job accidents, our skin suffers a lot of wear and tear. When that cut or injury goes beyond “ouch, that hurt!” to something a little more serious, when does it require a trip to the emergency room?

“A good rule of thumb is if you can't get bleeding to stop in about ten minutes or so, you should make your way to the ER or an Urgent Care Center,” said John Valincius, MPAS, PA-C, a physician assistant in Abington Hospital – Jefferson Health's Emergency Trauma Center. “If there is a lot of bleeding or you're not able to drive, dial 911.”

Treating Minor Cuts and Scrapes Yourself

Everyday minor cuts and scrapes should be cleansed with soap and water. If it’s a small wound or cut, you can usually stop the bleeding with direct pressure. You’ll first want to find a clean cloth and place it over the wound, and then apply firm pressure with your hand. Hold that pressure until the bleeding stops, which can sometimes take a few minutes.

Above all else, resist the urge to take a peek too soon.

“It's important to leave the dressing you’re using to apply pressure for a while,” said Valincius. “If you peel it right off or keep checking, you're likely to start the bleeding all over again.”

When Wounds Need Medical Attention

Some wounds need to be evaluated by a medical provider or an Urgent Care or ER professional. These injuries include:

  • Injuries where the bleeding doesn't stop quickly and easily
  • Penetrating injuries or punctures
  • Animal bites
  • Crushing injuries
  • Any wound that may have debris in it
  • Lacerations over one-centimeter wide (about a half inch)
  • Gaping or jagged wounds
  • Amputations

“Your medical provider needs to see and evaluate a wound to know if deep structures such as arteries, nerves or tendons are involved,” said Valincius.

Some wounds require antibiotics, especially in the case of animal bites. Left unattended, some injuries can cause permanent disabilities or disfiguring and scarring if not treated properly. You should have a questionable wound evaluated and treated as soon as possible after the injury. This reduces your risk for infection.

“The soft rule is to have a wound evaluated less than eight hours after the injury,” said Valincius. “Even if you come in later, we can reduce your risk of infection or long-term problems with proper wound care and suturing when needed.”

In infection-prone wounds like animal bites or very dirty wounds, your healthcare provider may perform a delayed closure. This involves washing the wound well, making sure there aren't foreign bodies in it, and starting a course of prophylactic antibiotics. After these preliminary treatments are complete, you’ll wait two or more days before the wound is closed with sutures. In this way, you can be evaluated for serious injury and infection that may not have been initially apparent.

“Wounds left to heal on their own that should have had sutures can lead to significant scarring,” said Valincius. “Some of these wounds can be treated by a plastic surgeon long after the initial injury.”

Keep in mind that most minor wounds will heal fine on their own if you take care of them properly. Keep the area clean by washing daily with soap and water. If you notice any new redness, swelling, red streaking up your arm or leg, or if you run a fever, you should be immediately evaluated by your medical provider.

Find a Jefferson Urgent Care center near you.

Page last reviewed: March 6, 2018
Page last updated: March 6, 2018

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