How to Treat a Laceration

A laceration is an irregular cut in the skin caused by a sharp object. This kind of cut is the most common reason for emergency room visits in the United States. Between 7 million and 9 million cases are reported each year.

Treatment for a laceration depends on what caused it and how deep it is. Taking care of a cut the right way can prevent infection, scarring, and hospitalization. In some cases, it may save your life.

This article will go over how to treat a laceration. You will also learn when a cut requires medical attention.

Bandaid on arm
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Steps to Treating a Laceration

Some cuts are treatable at home first aid kit. However, if the cut is deep and the bleeding will not stop, you need emergency medical care.

If you or someone else gets a laceration, here are some general guidelines to follow.

Stay Safe

Before you start helping someone who is injured, keep yourself safe. For example, some cuts bleed a lot. You'll need to try to keep the other person's blood from getting on you.

Do your best to prevent infection when you're caring for a person who is sick or hurt. The steps you can take to stay safe are called universal precautions.

Wearing disposable gloves and a face mask, if you have them, is another step you can take. These items are called personal protective equipment. They help keep you and the person you're taking care of safe.

Control Bleeding

The most important step in caring for a cut is preventing blood loss. There are a few ways that you can do this.

First, apply pressure directly to the wound. Then, lift the injured area up to the level of the person's heart. Keep it there for about 15 minutes. This should be long enough to stop the bleeding.

If the cut is still bleeding, try putting pressure on the groin or the crook of the elbow. These pressure points can help stop bleeding.

Tourniquets

Tourniquets are tight bands that stop blood flow to a part of the body. A tourniquet can stop bleeding but should only be used as a last resort.

Even when someone puts a tourniquet on correctly, it can still cause damage. They should only be used in life-or-death situations when medical care will not be available soon enough to help someone.

Preferably, only a person who is trained (like a first responder) should put on a tourniquet.

Know When to Call 911

If you cannot stop the bleeding, call 911. Losing too much blood is dangerous. If a major artery is cut, a person can lose a life-threatening amount of blood in just 5 minutes.

Clean the Wound

Once the bleeding has stopped, wash the cut and skin around it. Use warm water and mild soap, and be gentle. If the cut is deep, it might start to bleed again if you're not careful.

Re-apply pressure if the bleeding starts again. If you can't get the bleeding to stop, call 911.

Get Stitches (if needed)

Once the cut is clean and not bleeding, you need to see if the wound needs stitches. A cut that is deeper or longer than a half-inch will probably need to be stitched up.

If a cut is deep enough to show bone, muscle, or fatty tissue, it will need stitches.

A large laceration will eventually heal on its own without stitches, but stitching it up helps it heal faster. It also keeps bacteria out and lowers the risk of infection. Getting stitches can also prevent scarring.

Apply Antiseptic

For a smaller cut that doesn't need stitches, put antiseptic ointment and an adhesive bandage on it. An example is a butterfly closure bandage. You probably have one of them in your first aid kid.

The dressing keeps the wound clean and prevents infection. It can also help prevent scarring.

Dress the Wound

After the cut has been bandaged, cover it with sterile gauze. Your first aid kit should have a roll or patches of it. You can either tape the gauze in place or wrap it with an elastic bandage.

Check for Infection

As the cut is healing, look for signs of infection. Check the dressing every day for oozing or lots of bleeding. Clean the wound every time you change the dressing.

If the cut starts to swell or pus is coming out, call your doctor.

Control Pain

Lacerations can hurt a lot. Putting an ice pack on it may help. You may want to take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen).

Keeping the wound elevated will reduce swelling and may relieve discomfort.

Get Shots (if needed)

Objects that are dirty or old can have bacteria on them. Some of these bacteria can make you very sick. If you get cut by an object like this, you might need a tetanus vaccination or tetanus booster shot.

The risk of tetanus is higher if the cut is on your feet, cannot be cleaned right away, or is from an animal bite.

Animal bites can also cause rabies. Always get medical attention if you are bitten by an animal.

When to Call a Doctor

A cut that gets infected can become an emergency. Seek medical care right away if you have:

  • Swelling, pain, or redness around the wound
  • Red streaks near the injury that point toward your heart
  • Pus in or coming out of the wound
  • Numbness around the injury
  • temperature over 100.4 F

Summary

Lacerations are cuts that have irregular edges. They usually are caused by sharp objects. You might be able to treat a cut at home with basic first aid. More serious injuries need medical treatment.

Cuts that come from objects that could have bacteria on them and animal bites always require medical attention. You should also get medical care if the cut is showing signs of an infection.

A Word From Verywell

Lacerations are common injuries. A home first aid kit might be all you need to care for a cut that's not very bad. However, cuts that won't stop bleeding, that are showing signs of infection, or that came from an animal bite need more care than you can do on your own.

It's important to know when to seek emergency help for a laceration. If not treated the right way, a cut can be very dangerous. Learning basic first and understanding the signs of an infected cut could save your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you treat a deep cut without stitches?

    Stitches, staples, or skin adhesives are necessary to treat most deep cuts. The risk of infection increases the longer a wound stays open. However, if you are unable to close the wound, it's important to stop the bleeding and call emergency medical care for assistance.

  • What is the difference between laceration and abrasion?

    Laceration is when a sharp object pierces the skin and underlying tissue to cause a jagged cut or tear. The resulting wound can be deep, shallow, wide, or narrow.

    Abrasion is when skin is pushed against a harsh or rugged surface to cause a scrape. Abrasion usually does not cut into the skin like laceration does, and because of this, there is often less bleeding involved.

  • Do I need stitches if the cut stops bleeding?

    Even if the cut has stopped bleeding, you may still need stitches depending on certain factors. If any of the following questions apply, you should call for professional medical services as soon as possible.

    • Is the cut long or deep?
    • Is there anything inside the cut that shouldn't be there, like a foreign object?
    • Was the cut caused by an animal or human bite, or punctured by an object? Each of these can cause infection.
    • Is the cut located on the hands, mouth, face, or genitals?
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7 Sources
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