How to Treat a Cut at Home

June 29, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Guillermo Bethencourt, M.D. contributes to topics such as Internal Medicine.

You’ve cut yourself with an object. It’s bigger than a paper cut but smaller than a deep gash. What should you do?

  1. First thing’s first: Clean the wound with an antiseptic, such as Hydrogen peroxide. “Be as brisk and gentle as possible, but do get it clean,” says Guillermo Bethencourt, M.D., internist at Raritan Bay Medical Center.
  2. Next, apply a topical antibiotic ointment or cream to the wound and cover with a bandage or cotton gauze and tape.

If Your Cut Gets Worse

Administering this basic first aid dressing doesn’t ensure recovery, but it does buy time to ponder your next step. At the top of the list for skin-wound concerns is tetanus, a serious infection born from bacteria. Though very rare, tetanus is extremely painful and potentially fatal when it does manifest. Fortunately, vaccinations are available and recommended every 10 years. Confirm with your doctor the date of your last tetanus booster. If it’s been more than 10 years—or if you’re unsure—arrange to have the shot immediately. “In my experience, most people are not up to date on their tetanus vaccination,” Dr. Bethencourt says.

Assess your vulnerability to other infection-causing bacteria. Tetanus is just one of many infections brought on by bacteria, pathogens, fungi and yeast. Several skin conditions indicate high vulnerability:

  • Cause of the cut. Evaluate the object behind the cut. Was it a nail? A rusty section of metal fence? An animal bite? Answers to these questions help medical professionals winnow down the types of bacteria you may have been exposed to. “Say, for instance, you were bitten by a cat,” Dr. Bethencourt says. “We know there are certain infections specific to cat bites and which antibiotics work on those infections.”
  • Exposure to elements. A cut to a bare foot, hand, face or any uncovered surface is automatically more vulnerable to bacteria by virtue of it being exposed to and in regular contact with other surfaces and elements.
  • Skin cleanliness. If the injury occurred on a soiled or dirty area of the skin, it’s possible that dirt may have entered the skin and bloodstream along with the cut.
  • Air flow. “The waist, feet and scalp are all examples of surfaces commonly under tight, warm, moist coverage—and therefore more susceptible to bacteria breeding,” Dr. Bethencourt says.

If any of these conditions apply, if the injury extends to the bone or vein, or if the wound is tender, swollen or throbbing after two to three days, see your primary care physician or local emergency facility immediately.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.