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When Cuts Require A Doctor

Visits to the emergency room for serious cuts and scapes peaks in the summer as everyone spends more time outdoors. CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains when you can rely on your home first aid kit to treat your wound, and when you need a doctor to look at it.

About 11.5 million Americans show up at emergency rooms each year with serious cuts requiring treatment. But many others try to treat their wounds themselves.

Here are ways to tell when you should consult your doctor about a cut:

  • If the cut is deep - one-eighth of an inch or more - or has jagged edges.
  • If there's debris like dirt, glass, or metal embedded in the cut.
  • If it's a puncture wound, as from a metal nail.
  • If it's caused by a bite from an animal or human.
  • If the scrape is large, for example, bigger than the palm of your hand.

You should also see your doctor if you see signs of infection like swelling, tenderness, fever or any discharge from the wound. You may also want to see a doctor if you haven't had a tetanus shot in the last 5-10 years.

Early treatment of a serious cut can prevent infection and reduce scarring. It only takes hours for bacteria to enter a wound, so the sooner it's treated, the better.

Some new treatments help heal cuts better. On skin surfaces that don't cover joints - such as the upper arm or torso - doctors can now use an adhesive similar to glue. The topical skin adhesive forms a bond over the cut and falls off 5-10 days later as the wound heals.

For minor cuts, there are skin strips -- tape-like bandages that hold wound edges together. Both the topical skin adhesive and the skin strips can replace stitches and staples and probably save you a return trip to the doctor.

When the cut isn't serious enough for a visit to the doctor, here's what you can do:

  1. Stop the bleeding using a clean cloth and gentle pressure.
  2. Clean the wound just with water - you shouldn't put soap in the wound, only use soap to clean the area around the cut.
  3. Apply antibiotic ointment. Some people use vitamin E or aloe, but that's not recommended because it might irritate the skin.
  4. Cover the area with a fresh, sterilized bandage.

What should you keep in your home first aid kit this summer? Click here to find out.
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