How to Treat a Laceration

Steps for Proper Treatment of Cuts

A laceration is an irregular cut in the skin caused by a sharp object. Treatment for a laceration typically depends on just how deep the cut is.

Lacerations remain the most common cause of emergency room visits in the United States, with between 7 million and 9 million cases reported annually. Treating lacerations appropriately not only reduces the risk of infection, scarring, and hospitalization but can also sometimes save a life.

Bandaid on arm
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Steps to Treating a Laceration

Some lacerations can be easily treated with a home first aid kit. Others require emergency medical care, particularly if the wound is deep and the bleeding cannot be stopped.

Whatever the circumstances, there are several general guidelines you should follow if someone experiences a laceration:

  1. Stay safe. If you are not the injured party, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available. Lacerations often involve a lot of blood, and you should avoid getting anyone's blood on you if at all possible.
  2. Control the bleeding. Preventing blood loss is the central task when faced with a laceration injury. Apply pressure directly to the wound while elevating the wound to the level of the heart for around 15 minutes. This should be enough to stop bleeding. If not, try applying pressure to key pressure points (such as the groin or crook of the elbow). Tourniquets should be avoided unless medical care will be delayed for several hours. Tourniquets are typically viewed as a last resort.
  3. Know when to call 911. If you have tried all of these options but the bleeding still will not stop, call 911. Excess blood loss is a serious concern with lacerations. With severe lacerations of a major artery, people have been known to bleed out in as quickly as five minutes.
  4. Clean the wound. Once the bleeding has stopped, wash the laceration and surrounding skin with warm water and mild soap. If there is a deep laceration, bleeding may start again if you are not gentle. If this occurs, re-apply pressure and call for help if bleeding continues.
  5. Get stitches if needed. When you are certain that the bleeding has completely stopped, check whether the laceration needs stitches. A wound deeper or longer than a half-inch or deep enough to expose bone, muscle, or fatty tissue generally requires stitches. While a larger laceration will still eventually heal on its own without stitches, stitching promotes faster healing, keepss bacteria out of the wound (reducing the risk of infection), and help prevent scarring.
  6. Apply an antiseptic. For smaller lacerations that do not require stitches, use an antiseptic ointment and an adhesive bandage (such as a butterfly closure bandage). This will help to keep the wound clean and help prevent infection and scarring.
  7. Dress the wound. Once the antiseptic ointment and bandage have been applied, cover the wound with sterile gauze, either taping it into place or wrapping it with elastic bandage.
  8. Check for infection. Watch for infection, checking the dressing daily for signs of oozing or excessive bleeding. Clean the laceration each time you change the dressing. If the laceration begins to swell or drain pus, call a doctor.
  9. Control the pain. Lacerations can be extremely painful. If occasional ice application doesn't help, try using Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) for temporary pain relief. Elevating the wound also helps.

When to Call a Doctor

Seek immediate medical attention, day or night, if you have any signs of an infection, including:

  • Swelling, pain, or redness around the wound
  • Red streaks visible near the injury, pointing toward the heart
  • Pus discharging from the wound or visible in it
  • Numbness in the area around the injury
  • temperature over 100.4 F

A Word From Verywell

If the laceration is contaminated, the injured party should get a tetanus vaccination or booster shot as soon as possible. Wounds of the feet, those that cannot be cleaned right away, and wounds made by animals have a high risk of contamination.

Similarly, lacerations caused by animal bites may also cause rabies. Always consult a doctor for wounds caused by animal bites.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Yaguchi S, Yamamura H, Kamata K, Shimamura N, Kakehata S, Matsubara A. Treatment strategy for a penetrating stab wound to the vertebral artery: a case report. Acute Med Surg. 2019 Jan;6(1):83–6. doi:10.1002/ams2.381

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Does your cut need stitches? Find out how to tell. July 10, 2019.

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