How To Treat a Puncture Wound

dog bite
Animal bites are a common form of puncture wound. Patti Wigington

Puncture wounds and lacerations can look the same at the surface of the skin. It's really the depth below the surface and what internal organs or tissues are damaged that matters most.

Puncture wounds can be deep or shallow and large or small. Treatment depends on the severity of the puncture wound, and the size and speed of the object creating it. Also, treatment is different based on whether the object that created the puncture is still in the body or was removed.

An object that is sticking out of the skin is called an impaled object. A bullet wound is a type of puncture created at high speed and often leaves the object still under the surface.

Animal bites can also be a form of puncture wound and bring with them the additional complication of potential infection. For all punctures, bleeding control and infection are the priorities.


Stay Safe. If you are not the victim, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.

  1. Control bleeding before anything else. Putting pressure directly on the puncture wound 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.
  2. Deep puncture wounds (or those of unknown depth) to the abdomen, back, pelvis, thigh, chest, or if bleeding will not stop, call 911. Also, call 911 for puncture wounds of any depth to the neck. Holes in the chest can lead to collapsed lungs. Deep puncture wounds to the chest should be immediately sealed by hand or with a dressing that does not allow air o flow. Victims may complain of shortness of breath. If the victim gets worse after sealing the chest puncture wound, unseal it.
  1. Once bleeding has been controlled, wash the puncture wound with warm water and mild soap (see illustration). If bleeding starts again, repeat step two.

  2. Wide puncture wounds may need stitches. If the victim needs stitches, proceed to the emergency department.
  3. For smaller puncture wounds that do not require stitches, use antiseptic ointment and cover with adhesive bandages.
  1. Watch for infection and change the dressing (bandages) daily. Clean the puncture wound each time you change the dressing. If the puncture wound begins to swell or drain pus - or if redness begins to radiate or streak away from the puncture wound - contact a doctor.
  2. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief.


  1. If the puncture wound 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. Puncture wounds caused by animal bites may also cause rabies. Always consult a doctor for wounds caused by animal bites.

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