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How to Treat a Cut at Home (and When to Head to the Hospital)

by Brianna Steinhilber /

Anyone who has spent time in the kitchen knows the hazards that come with preparing a healthy meal. The open flame on the stove has likely gotten your forearm a few times.

But while burns are painful, it’s actually knives that pose the biggest threat in the kitchen. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (a survey maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission), knife accidents at home led to hospital visits almost 330,000 times in 2011. In a sample of more than 8,000 of these cases, more than two-thirds of the injuries were to fingers.

And kitchens are far from the only only place where we can accidentally cut ourselves. In fact, cuts are one of the most common reasons people visit the emergency room. In 2015, an estimated 2 million people visited a U.S. hospital emergency department for a cut/pierce injury, according to the CDC.

Whether you nicked a finger while chopping vegetables or cut yourself doing yard work, you'll want to know when to treat at home and when it's better left to the professionals. To get to the bottom of it, we teamed up with the special effects team at SyFy Channel's Face Off and Dr. John Torres, NBC News Medical Correspondent, to create amazingly realistic cuts, both minor and more severe, to show you how to treat them at home — and when you should head to the hospital.

“Cuts are one of the main things we see in the ER on a daily basis,” says Dr. Torres. “Some of these cuts actually need to come into the ER, and some of these can be take care of at home, especially if it’s not gaping.” Here's what you need to know:

WHEN TO TREAT A CUT AT HOME

  1. You can move the affected extremities as normal.
  2. You don’t experience numbness.
  3. You don’t see anything unfamiliar, like bones or tendons.

HOW TO TREAT A CUT AT HOME

  • Apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding.
  • Clean the cut with soap and water, and apply triple antibiotic ointment.
  • Cover with a band-aid and repeat the cleaning process once daily.

Related

WHEN TO HEAD TO THE ER TO TREAT A CUT

  1. The cut is large and gaping.
  2. You can’t move the extremities as normal.
  3. You experience numbness.

If you have any of the symptoms above, you definitely need to go to the ER for professional treatment, says Dr. Torres, but there are a few things you will need to do first.

"The first thing is to stop the bleeding," says Dr. Torres. “Use a gauze pad or a clean towel, push it over the wound and apply direct pressure. That direct pressure will stop the bleeding; then get to the emergency room.”

The doctor in the ER will then clean out the wound, make sure there is no debris inside, and then suture the wound closed to lower risk of infection and scarring.

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