Symptoms and Signs of Cuts or Lacerations

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 6/17/2022

Doctor's Notes on Cuts or Lacerations

Cuts and lacerations are terms for the same condition. A cut is a skin wound that results in separation of the skin, often caused by a sharp object (such as a knife or a shard of glass). A laceration refers to a torn or jagged wound that also tends to be caused by sharp objects or blunt force. 

Symptoms that may accompany cuts and lacerations include

  • bleeding,
  • infection (signs of infection include severe pain, draining pus, redness beyond the wound edges, fever and chills, or excessive wound swelling),
  • inflammation and minor redness in the skin around the injury,
  • pain,
  • damage to structures beneath the skin; exposure of underlying tissues such as fat,
  • tendon,
  • muscle, or bone if the cut is deep;
  • fainting at the sight of blood (this is a neurological reaction in which a reflex slowing of the heart causes a low blood pressure called vasovagal syncope), and
  • possible future scars.

What Is the Treatment for Cuts or Lacerations?

The treatment for cuts and lacerations depends on the location and the severity of the injury. Some cuts or lacerations are very minor and just need to be cleaned, and some are more complex requiring specialty surgery. Things to consider in the treatment of cuts and lacerations are:

  • Can you stop the bleeding? 
  • Are the wound edges separated? 
  • Can you adequately clean the wound? 
  • Is it possible there is serious underlying damage (such as a cut nerve or tendon)? 
  • Do you need a tetanus or rabies shot? 

If the answer to any of the above questions is, “No” you should seek medical care where the wound will be examined and the course of action determined. Usually, medication to numb the area may be given. Depending on the size and location of the cut, this may be done using various methods:

  • Topical medicine 
  • Direct injection of anesthetic into the wound 
  • Injection into a regional nerve --called “nerve block” - (for cuts to the fingertip, the nerves at the finger base are often blocked with a series of shots)

The wound will need to be extensively cleaned.

  • This may be done by first washing the adjacent skin with soap and water and removing crusted blood with diluted hydrogen peroxide, betadine or chlorhexidine. 
  • Next, irrigation by squirting saline at the wound under high pressure is very effective at reducing bacteria in the wound.

Your doctor will decide the best way to repair your wound.

  • Some minor cuts can be closed with special adhesive tapes (Steri-Strips) or tissue glue (Dermabond or Indermil).  Tissue glue can be used as a barrier against common bacterial microbes. 
  • Deeper cuts may need stitches to repair deep structures (fascia, the connective tissue envelope around a muscle). 
  • Stitches to the skin surface can help stop bleeding, protect underlying tissues, and lessen scarring.

Removal of your stitches is usually done at your doctor's office after 4 to 14 days depending on what body part is repaired.

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REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.