When to See a Doctor for a Cut

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Young girl treated for facial cut

Everyone has had a cut or scrape on their skin at some time in their life, some of us more often than others. Most cuts or scrapes (also called abrasions) can be cared for at home. But any time you have broken skin, there can be complications and you may need to seek medical attention. Here are some examples of when you should see a doctor for cuts or scrapes, or any break in your skin:

Common Causes of a Cut

Cuts and breaks to the skin can happen for a number of reasons and sometimes you may not notice that you’ve cut yourself until you see blood. Here are some of the most common ways we can cut our skin:

  • Falls

  • Hitting part of our body against an object

  • Lacerations caused by a sharp object like a knife

  • Puncturing the skin

  • Constant pressure or rubbing, like a pressure sore

  • Blisters that are popped or torn

Some chronic illnesses, like diabetes, and aging can make your skin more delicate, increasing the risk of cuts or skin tears.

Cut Treatment at Home

Most minor to moderate breaks in the skin, including bleeding cuts and abrasions, can be managed at home. Here are some steps you can take if you have cut yourself:

  • Stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the wound. Use a clean, soft cloth and press firmly against the wound until the bleeding stops. Once the bleeding has stopped, remove the cloth very carefully to avoid breaking up clots that have formed to stop the blood flow. If the cloth sticks to the wound, dampen it with clean cool water and gently peel it away.

  • Clean the wound. Run clean, warm water over the wound to wash out dirt or foreign objects that may have entered the cut or scrape. If there is debris you can see but it won’t dislodge, rub it very gently with a soft cloth, moving in one direction while under running water.

  • Pat the wound dry with a clean towel. Do not rub it.

  • Apply antibiotic ointment if you wish, following the instructions on the label.

  • Cover the wound with a dry gauze dressing, especially if the area may rub against clothing or an object.

  • Change the bandage daily, or more often if it becomes dirty or wet.

When to See a Doctor for a Cut

Although most minor to moderate cuts may be treated at home, you should see a doctor if you have a severe wound or if you develop complications. You may also need a tetanus shot. The following types of cuts or wounds should be assessed and treated by a doctor:

  • Puncture wounds: A cut caused by a puncture, such as a nail or an animal bite can be very deep. There may be damage to deeper tissue and bacteria can be introduced deep into the wound.

  • Obviously deep, long cuts; gaping cuts; or cuts with raggedy, torn edges. These made need sutures (stitches) or special tape to close the wounds.

  • Wounds that are spurting blood or won’t stop bleeding

  • Wounds that have debris in them that you can’t remove on your own, such as dirt, pieces of glass, or gravel

  • Wounds that are on or near your face, a joint, or your genitals

Severe bleeding is a medical emergency. While applying pressure to the wound, call 911 or seek emergency help immediately.

If your cut doesn’t require immediate attention and you are caring for it at home, you may have to see a doctor if there are signs of an infection or if the wound is not healing. Signs include:

  • Increasing redness around the wound

  • Increasing pain

  • Swelling

  • Discharge or pus coming from the wound

  • Fever

  • The wound does not seem to be healing after a few days to a week.

You should also see a doctor if it has been more than five years since your last tetanus shot.

Who to See for a Cut

Because cuts and abrasions are generally treated at home, cuts that need medical attention are usually seen in urgent care clinics or emergency room departments, although less urgent cases may be treated by family doctors. If treatment for your cut is complicated, either by location or seriousness of the injury, you may be referred to a plastic surgeon. A plastic surgeon has the expertise to repair damaged tissue and close wounds, especially on the face, limiting the amount of scarring that could occur after the cut has healed. Check with your insurance company to see if your primary doctor must provide a referral to see this specialist

Cuts and scrapes are an inevitable part of life, but knowing when to seek help for a cut can help reduce the chances of scarring and complications.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 12
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Wound Location First Thing to Consider when Deciding if
    Medical Attention is Needed. Mayo Clinic. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/wound-location-first-thing-to-consider-when-deciding-if-medical-attention-is-needed/
  2. Cuts, Scratches, and Scrapes. TeensHealth from Nemours. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/cuts.html