How To Properly Treat a Laceration

Young boy with head wound
Getty Images/IAN BODDY

A laceration is an irregular cut in the skin caused by a sharp object. Treatment for a laceration typically depends on just how deep the cut is.

Steps to Treating a Laceration

  1. Stay safe. If you are not the victim, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available. Lacerations often involve a lot of blood, and you should avoid getting another individual's blood on you if possible.
  1. Control bleeding before anything else. The main concern with lacerations is blood loss, so it is important to control the bleeding as well as possible. Putting pressure directly on the laceration while holding it above the level of the heart for 15 minutes should be enough to stop bleeding. If not, try using pressure points. Tourniquets should be avoided unless medical care will be delayed for several hours. Tourniquets are typically viewed as a last resort.
  2. If you have tried all of the above options to control blood loss and the bleeding still will not stop, call 911. Excess blood loss is a serious concern with lacerations, especially if the bleeding cannot be controlled and won't stop.
  3. Once bleeding has stopped, wash the laceration and surrounding area with warm water and mild soap (see illustration). With a deep laceration, bleeding may start up again after it had previous stopped. If this occurs and bleeding starts up again, repeat step two in order to control the bleeding.
  1. Determine if the laceration needs stitches. Especially deep or wide lacerations often need stitches. If the victim needs stitches, proceed to the emergency department. While a larger laceration will still eventually heal even without stitches, getting it stitched is a good idea for several reasons, as it will promote quicker healing, help to keep bacteria out of the wound and thus prevent infection, and also prevent against scarring.
  1. For smaller lacerations that do not require stitches, use antiseptic ointment and close with butterfly closures. This products will help to keep the wound clean and prevent some scarring.
  2. Cover the laceration with sterile gauze and tape in place or wrap with roller gauze.
  3. Watch for infection and change the dressing (bandages) daily. Clean the laceration each time you change the dressing. If the laceration begins to swell or drain pus - or if redness begins to radiate or streak away from the laceration - contact a doctor. Lacerations should progressively heal and clear up over time.
  4. Lacerations can be extremely painful; use acetaminophen or ibuprofen if necessary for pain relief.

Tips for Laceration Treatment

  1. If the laceration is contaminated, the victim should consult a doctor as soon as possible for a tetanus vaccination or booster shot. Wounds of the feet, those that cannot be cleaned right away, and wounds made by animals all have a high risk of contamination.
  2. Lacerations caused by animal bites may also cause rabies. Always consult a doctor for wounds caused by animal bites.

    Continue Reading