Infected Cut When To See Doctor
As a kid growing up in New York City, I had an affinity for getting cuts and scratches on my fingers. And not just one finger — all five digits were fair game. One of my favorite games was to pick a random digit, stick it in the freezer for about 10 seconds, then hold out that “cut” while everyone else tried to guess which finger was hurt. It never failed to amaze them. (And annoy my mother.) But even if you don’t have kids, chances are good that at some point in your life, you’ve probably been injured yourself. Maybe you got hit with a stray golf ball, or fell off your bike. Or maybe you sliced your hand open pretty badly with a dull butter knife. If you notice any of these signs of infection, call your doctor right away:
redness around the cut.
red streaking spreading from the cut.
increased swelling or pain around the cut.
You can also use a clean towel to check for drainage. This is especially important if you’re taking antibiotics, as they may slow down the healing process. Also, make sure you get checked by a medical professional if you experience fever, chills, or other flu-like symptoms after sustaining an injury.
Cut Injuries Are Commonplace
An estimated 3.5 million people every year go to emergency rooms complaining of injuries such as sprains, burns, lacerations, fractures, dislocations, and infections. In fact, there’s no telling how many cuts happen each day across America. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 1.2 million Americans will seek treatment annually due to skinned knees, scrapes, and bruises. Fortunately, most of these types of injuries usually clear up without complication.
But when cuts become infected, things can get scary fast. Infections are caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites, and they often spread through contact with blood, fluid, or mucous membranes. Your body responds to this foreign invader by producing white blood cells, antibodies and various chemicals such as interleukins, tumor necrosis factors and cytokines that kill the germs and help heal your wound. However, if the infection isn’t controlled properly, these immune system proteins can actually cause further damage by damaging healthy tissue and prolonging inflammation.
The longer an infection goes untreated, the greater the risk of complications. Left unchecked, an infection can lead to abscesses, boils, cellulitis, carbuncles, impetigo, lymphangitis, lymphadenitis, phlegmona, pnuemonia, rhus dermatitis, scrofula, tetanus, erysipelas, gangrene, pneumonia, pleurisy, pericarditis, peritonitis, peroneal endarteritis, septicemia, toxic shock syndrome, vasculitis, venereal diseases, arthritis, bursitis, conjunctivitis, dengue fever, erysipeloid, herpes simplex virus, hepatitis C, influenza, infectious mononucleosis, paratyphoid fever, psittacine beak and feather disease, tularemia, West Nile Virus, warts, impetigo contagiosum, chicken pox, ringworm, and syphilis.
Prevention Is Better Than A Cure
The best way to avoid an infection is to simply keep your hands clean and treat minor cuts immediately with antiseptic soap and water. You should always wash your hands before eating or touching food, changing diapers, handling garbage, or using the bathroom. Whenever possible, try to prevent cuts from occurring in the first place. For example, wearing gloves while gardening reduces the likelihood of picking something nasty. Wearing long sleeves and pants helps protect against exposure to mosquito bites, which transmit numerous illnesses, including malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, encephalitis, filariasis, Japanese encephalitis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tickborne viral hemorrhagic fevers, and Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever [sources: CDC; World Health Organization].
Keep reading for more information on what to do if you do receive a cut, scrape, or puncture wound.
The following infections are considered serious:
Acute bacterial meningitis
West Nile virus
Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome
Viral hemorrhagic fevers
A common reason why people wait to see a doctor for their cut is because they want to take care of it themselves. After all, most of us know how to apply antibiotic ointments, dressings, and bandages ourselves. Unfortunately, doing so doesn’t mean we necessarily know how to stop a cut from becoming infected. Here are some tips to consider:
Don’t share needles. Don’t let anyone touch the area until you feel better. Keep track of who has used the needle (or whatever object you used) since you last saw a health care provider.
Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. Use antibacterial soap and warm water. Dry off carefully and cover the site with a sterile gauze pad or Band Aid until seen by a medical professional.
If you think you might have received an injection recently, ask your healthcare provider if you need another dose.
Avoid sharing personal items like towels or clothing that come into contact with your open wound.
Follow directions provided by your physician regarding medications you may be taking.
Cleanse the wound gently but firmly with warm running water and drying cloth. Never scrub or rub.
Take acetaminophen if you have a fever.
Call 911 if you suspect that someone has been bitten by an animal or stung by a scorpion or spider.
Never smoke near or around a cut or open sore.
Do Not Try To Surgically Clean A Cut
It’s understandable that you’d want to quickly disinfect a cut to reduce the potential for infection, but it’s best to leave surgical procedures for trained professionals. Although you can purchase products on the market specifically designed to aid in cleaning wounds, you shouldn’t attempt to surgically remove dirt, debris, or bodily fluids from a cut unless you have extensive training. Doing so could result in severe bleeding, nerve damage, scarring, loss of function, and/or permanent deformity.
For moderate cuts and abrasions, mildewcide ointment works well. Mildewcides contain a chemical called benzoic acid that breaks down certain enzymes found in microorganisms, which prevents microbes from causing further harm. There are several different brands available over-the-counter, ranging in price from less than $10 to more than $100. Benadryl Cream contains benzocaine, an antihistamine, which numbs itching and burning sensations associated with insect bites and skin irritations. These topical agents work well on minor cuts and abrasions, although you may have to reapply several times during the course of the day. Overuse of benzocaine cream can produce side effects such as dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, and difficulty breathing.
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