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Skin wounds, including animal or human bites, need thorough cleaning to reduce the risk of
infection and scarring and to promote healing.
You may be able to do this yourself for minor wounds. You'll have to stop any bleeding, clean the wound, and perhaps bandage the wound.
Before you clean the wound, try to stop the bleeding.
If you are not going to see your doctor immediately, rinse the wound for at least 5 to 10 minutes. Let the injured person clean his or her own wound, if
Consider bandaging the wound if you need to protect it from getting dirty or irritated. Choose the bandage
carefully. There are many products available. Before you buy or use one, be sure to read the label carefully
and follow the label's instructions when you apply the bandage.
Watch for signs of infection. If an infection develops under a bandage, you may need to see your doctor.
Use of an antibiotic ointment has not been shown to affect healing. If you choose to use an antibiotic ointment,
such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin, apply the ointment lightly. The ointment
will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. Be sure to read the product label about skin sensitivity. If a
skin rash or itching develops under the bandage, stop using the ointment.
You may need to see a doctor for a large, deep, or very dirty wound. You may also need to see a doctor if the wound is too painful to clean or you cannot remove dirt, debris, or a foreign object. The doctor will also know if you need antibiotics or stitches.
Most wounds that need stitches should be treated within 6 to 8 hours after the injury to reduce the risk
of infection. Very dirty wounds may not be stitched to avoid the risk of infection.
If you are going to see a doctor immediately, the wound can be cleaned and treated at the medical facility.
A quick test to determine whether you need stitches is to stop the bleeding, wash the wound well, and then pinch
the sides of the wound together. If the edges of the wound come together and it looks better, you may want to
consider getting stitches. If stitches may be needed, avoid using an antiseptic or antibiotic ointment until after a doctor has examined the wound.
June 6, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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