Not all lacerations and contusions require a trip to the ER, but there are times when it's helpful and even absolutely necessary. Here's how to know when to get emergency care for cuts or bruises.
Emergency care for cuts.
Emergency medicine physicians see a lot of cuts, or what they call lacerations, in the ER. You should consider coming to the ER to find out if you need stitches or glue anytime you see:
- Visible tissue underneath the skin (the red dermis layer or yellow subcutaneous fatty layer)
- The cut is wider than the head of a pin
Other signs that a cut may require emergency care include when the cut is:
- Bleeding profusely
- Located on:
- Or across a joint (to rule out damage to nerves, ligaments and tendons)
- The face or genitals (may require expert plastic surgery to prevent scarring or deformity)
- Caused by:
- A human or animal bite (a tetanus shot and/or antibiotics may be required)
- A dirty or rusty object, or infected (red, swollen, hot to the touch)
- Impact by a foreign object or high-pressure projectile (don't remove the object, as it may have struck an artery)
At-home treatment for cuts.
Most cuts that don't meet the standards for emergency care listed above can be treated at home by:
- Cleaning thoroughly with soap and water
- Patting dry gently
- Applying antibiotic cream
- Covering with a clean dressing or band-aid
Emergency care for bruises.
A contusion, which is the medical term for a bruise, can occur on bones as well as soft tissue.
You can bruise a bone during a car accident, participating in high-impact sports such as cheerleading or taking a hard fall. You may not know you have a bone contusion unless you visit a doctor and have X-rays.
Symptoms of a bone bruise include:
- Stiffness, swelling or tenderness
- Trouble bending or using the affected area
- Pain that lasts longer than a typical bruise
Soft tissue bruises.
Those lovely rainbow-colored bruises we often don't know how we got can cause the same symptoms as a bone bruise. You can bruise skin, muscle or both. Bruises to muscle are often more painful, especially if it's a muscle you use a lot.
At-home treatment for bruises.
Most bruises simply need time to heal. You can treat the pain and swelling at home using the RICE method:
- Rest the area when possible
- Ice the affected area
- Compress the area with a bandage or wrap; make sure it's not tight enough to cut off circulation
- Elevate the area above your heart if possible
If you don't see improvement in pain or swelling after a few days, make an appointment with your doctor.
If you're not sure whether you need to seek emergency care for cuts or bruises, it's better to err on the side of caution. Cuts that get infected can lead to sepsis, while soft tissue injuries can be more serious than they first appear.
When your family needs emergency care for cuts or bruises, one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.