Cuts and wounds

Although it is sensible to know what to do in the event of a major accident or someone falling seriously ill, you are far more likely to need to know how to treat minor complaints, and particularly how to cleanse and dress cuts and grazes. Most minor cuts can be dealt with at home without medical assistance. However, wounds that are deep, or have foreign matter embedded in them that cannot easily be removed, should receive proper medical attention. Penetrating injuries caused by long, thin, sharp objects, such as nails or knives, can be particularly deceptive because the surface wound is small and often conceals serious damage to the underlying tissues. Also, the wound bleeds little and slowly and so does not flush out any dirt. With such injuries, and with deep and dirty wounds generally, there is a risk of tetanus infection; anyone who suffers a severe cut should make sure that his or her tetanus inoculations are up to date.

If foreign material embedded in a wound is large or difficult to remove, a temporary dressing should be applied to protect the area until the casualty reaches medical help. First apply pressure to stop bleeding, pressing the sides of the wound together in the case of a cut. Then protect the surface of the wound with sterile gauze or other clean, non-fluffy material, before applying a ring pad or similarly-shaped layers of cotton wool. Secure this in position with a bandage, making sure that pressure is kept off the central area of the injury.

If the cut is minor enough to treat at home, however, you should aim first to stop bleeding and second to prevent infection from being introduced into the wound. Bleeding from a minor wound can usually be stopped by covering the cut, preferably with a pad of sterile material, and applying pressure. Before you start to clean the wound, wash your hands with soap and water and dry them on a clean towel. Then, after wiping away any superficial foreign material or dirt, protect the wound or cut itself with a piece of sterile gauze and start to clean the area around it. Soap and water are adequate for this. Replacing swabs as they become dirty, wipe away from the wound until foreign matter and blood have been removed and then, again using a fresh swab, clean the skin immediately adjacent to the wound. Following this, the wound itself should be cleaned, preferably under running water, until all the debris has been removed, when it can be gently but thoroughly dried and covered with a dressing. If the cut is only small, an adhesive dressing should be applied, being careful not to touch the dressing itself; but in the case of larger wounds, a sterile pad should be held in place with a bandage. Persistent bleeding may be stopped by applying pressure over several layers of gauze.