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Wounds, First Aid 

Picture of Wounds, First Aid: First Aid for Wounds: View the animation to learn how to stop bleeding and care for a wound. Divider line
First Aid for Wounds: View the animation to learn how to stop bleeding and care for a wound.
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First Aid Guide
A wound is any type of injury that breaks the skin, and severity can range from a small cut to a deep puncture wound. To prevent infection and promote healing, all wounds need care.

A scrape (abrasion) is when the surface of the skin is injured on a hard or rough surface, causing the skin to ooze and, often, bleed. A cut has a clean edge, while a tear has a jagged edge. Both cuts and tears (lacerations) can affect deep tissues (eg, muscles, tendons, and nerves) and are likely to bleed.

First Aid Guide
Please note that a wound that is deep or is bleeding heavily should not be cleaned, as heavier bleeding may result. Attempt to stop the bleeding, and seek prompt medical care.

The first step in care of a wound is to stop the bleeding.
  1. Locate the source of the bleeding.
  2. Wash your hands and, when possible, wear gloves or use a barrier between you and the wound.
  3. Remove any loose debris. Note: do NOT pull debris from a wound that is embedded.
  4. With a sterile or clean dressing, apply direct pressure.
  5. Unless a broken bone is suspected, elevate the injured area above the heart.
If the bleeding does not stop after 15 minutes of the above measures, seek prompt medical care.

The following information applies to first aid of wounds that are not deep or bleeding heavily.

Scrapes:
  1. Wash your hands and, when possible, wear gloves or use a barrier between you and the wound.
  2. Clean the scrape by scrubbing it with mild soap, water, and a clean washcloth, being careful to remove any debris present.
  3. Apply antibiotic ointment to the entire wound, and dress the area with a bandage.
  4. Wash your hands following first aid to wounds.
Do NOT forego cleaning the wound even if it looks clean.

Cuts and Tears:

  1. Wash your hands and, when possible, wear gloves or use a barrier between you and the wound.
  2. Clean the wound with mild soap and running water.
  3. Apply direct pressure to the wound and elevate the injured part above the heart to control bleeding. Note: if the dressing becomes soaked with blood, add a new dressing on top of the current dressing rather than replacing it.
  4. Bandage the wound.
  5. Wash your hands following first aid to wounds.
Do NOT forego cleaning the wound even if it looks clean.
Do NOT breathe on a wound or its dressing.

Puncture Wounds:
  1. Wash your hands and, when possible, wear gloves or use a barrier between you and the wound.
  2. Wash the wound under a strong stream of soapy water.
  3. Apply antiseptic solution, and bandage the wound with sterile gauze. Note: using antibiotic ointment on the wound or dressing it tightly increases risk of infection.
  4. Wash your hands following first aid to wounds.
Do NOT forego cleaning the wound even if it looks clean.
Do NOT breathe on a wound or its dressing.

Note: Please see self-care measures specific to a wound with an embedded object in Splinter or Foreign Object.

General guidelines for cleaning and dressing a wound are as follows:
  1. Thoroughly wash the wound with mild soap and rinse with running water. Remove any debris, if necessary.
  2. Blot the wound dry with sterile gauze or a clean cloth.
  3. Bandage the wound with a sterile covering (eg, Band-Aid® if the wound is small or sterile gauze or clean cloth if the wound is larger), making sure to cover the entire wound. Adhere the bandage snugly, but do not cut off circulation.
  4. Wash your hands again after administering first aid.
  5. Watch for signs of infection to the wound, such as swelling, redness, warmth, and oozing.
First-Aid Kit:
A first-aid kit is necessary for treating minor first-aid emergencies on the spot and as preparation in caring for more serious injuries until professional medical attention is available. Be sure you have a first-aid kit that is properly stocked and that you are familiar with its contents.
Who's At Risk
Scrapes, cuts, tears, and puncture wounds affect all people of all ages, races, and sexes.

Minor cuts and scrapes can happen at any time.
Signs and Symptoms
Scrapes are small surface blood vessels that have torn. They are usually fairly shallow and ooze blood. Dirt can often be seen within the broken skin layers.

Cuts can be shallow or deep with a clean edge, such as from a knife cut. Tears have a rough, jagged edge. Cuts and tears are both likely to bleed. Tears are more likely to have dirt in them.

Puncture wounds typically appear as a small but deep hole. It is often difficult to tell how deep a puncture wound is, and these types of wounds usually do not cause much blood.

A wound caused by a foreign object may have an obvious object embedded in it (from a fishhook, from a splinter, from a zipper, etc). Please see first-aid measures specific to a wound in the Splinter or Foreign Object text.
When to Seek Medical Care
Seek medical care if any of the following occur:
  • The bleeding is severe or cannot be stopped.
  • The wound appears serious (eg, the wound is deep, possibly requires stitches, is from a human or animal bite, it cannot be fully cleaned, there is loss of function or sensation).
  • The pain caused by the wound is severe, even if the wound itself appears small.
  • There is concern about scarring (eg, the wound is on the face or another highly visible area).
  • The wound is on a joint or fingers or toes, as a tendon may be severed causing loss of function.
  • Immunization to tetanus is not current.
Treatments Your Provider May Prescribe
Your doctor will ensure the wound is clean and free of debris. Stitches or surgical tape may be administered if the opening of the wound is severe, can't easily be closed, or has fat or muscle protruding out of it. The doctor may also give a tetanus shot if the wound is dirty, deep, or if the previous shot was more than 5 years ago.


References/Trusted Links
References

Handal KA; American Red Cross. Part 2: first aid. In: The American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook. 1st ed. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company; 1992:186-198.
Last Updated: 22 Dec 2008