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Education Library: Lacerations (Cuts & Scratches)

Introduction

Lacerations are cuts or scratches that cause a skin wound. Lacerations that are not deep can heal with home treatments. Deep severe lacerations require medical treatment, such as stitches to close the wound and promote healing. Steps should be taken to avoid infection with all lacerations.

Anatomy

Your skin covers your body and protects it from the environment. Networks of vessels supply blood to your skin and carry waste products away to help keep the skin nourished and healthy. A cut or scratch to the skin injures the blood vessels, causing bleeding.

Causes

Lacerations result from accidents or intended acts, such as violence. Lacerations can vary from a superficial scratch to a deep cut.

Symptoms

A scratch appears as a red area on the skin that may or may not bleed. Cuts are deeper skin injuries that bleed. Scratches and cuts can cause pain.

Diagnosis

You should seek emergency medical treatment if you experience significant trauma or blood loss with a laceration. You should seek care from a doctor for deep wounds that need stitches; lacerations that have objects imbedded in them, such as pieces of glass, dirt, or gravel; or if a site appears infected. People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes; cardiovascular conditions such as poor circulation, mitral valve prolapse, artificial heart valves; and those who take blood thinners should contact their doctor.

Treatment

Most superficial lacerations can heal with home treatment. You should carefully wash the wound with soap and water. Apply pressure to the wound with a clean gauze pad to stop bleeding. Elevate the wound above the level of the heart to help stop bleeding. For example, sit and elevate a leg on pillows or raise an arm. Cover the wound with a bandage.

A doctor should evaluate deep or uneven lacerations. Stitches, steri-strips, or butterfly bandages are used to close the wound .

Infection is a primary concern following a wound. Make sure that your tetanus booster shot is up-to-date. Tetanus booster shots should be received every ten years.

Prevention

You may help prevent lacerations by wearing protective gear on the job or during sports. Older adults who are at-risk for falls should discuss fall prevention strategies with their doctor or physical therapist. Make sure that you receive a tetanus booster shot every ten years.

Am I at Risk?

People at risk for falls have a higher risk of lacerations. Older adults have a higher risk of lacerations because with age the skin becomes thinner and more vulnerable to injury.

Complications

Infections are a main concern following a laceration. Some infections can be very serious and even cause death. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, increased pain, tenderness, and fever. You should contact your doctor if you suspect that you have an infection.

Depending on the location and depth of a laceration, significant blood loss may occur. Deep lacerations can affect muscles, nerves, and major blood vessels. You should seek emergency medical treatment if you have a severe laceration.

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