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What is a laceration?

A laceration is an injury to the skin and the soft tissue underneath it. Lacerations happen when you are cut or hit by something. They can happen anywhere on the body.

What are the signs and symptoms of a laceration?

Lacerations can be many shapes and sizes. The open skin may look like a cut, tear, or gash. The wound may hurt, bleed, bruise, or swell. Lacerations in certain areas of the body, such as the scalp, may bleed a lot. Your wound may have edges that are close together or wide apart. You may have numbness around the wound. You may have decreased movement in an area below the wound.

How is a laceration diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your injury and examine you. You may need these and other tests:

  • X-ray: An x-ray of the injured area will show if you have a foreign object in your wound. Foreign objects include metal, gravel, and glass.

How will my injury be treated?

The healing time for a laceration depends on where it is on your body. It may take a laceration longer to heal if it is over a joint, such as your knee or elbow. Your healthcare provider may do any of the following:

  • Stop the bleeding: Your healthcare provider will apply pressure to help stop any bleeding.

  • Clean your wound: Your healthcare provider may need to clean your laceration. This will decrease the chance of infection. Your healthcare provider may need to look in your laceration for foreign objects. He may give you medicine to numb the area and decrease pain.

  • Wound closure: Your healthcare provider may close your laceration with stitches, staples, tissue glue, or medical strips. These may help to keep the wound from getting infected. Stitches may decrease the amount of scarring you have. Some lacerations may heal better without stitches.

Will I need a tetanus shot?

Tetanus infection can happen after any break in your skin. After an injury, you may need a tetanus shot if it has been longer than 5 years since your last one. Your healthcare provider may decide if you need a tetanus shot based on your wound. Wounds at high risk for tetanus infection include any wound that may have dirt or saliva in it. Many puncture wounds also have a high risk for tetanus infection. When needed, tetanus shots should be given as soon as possible (within 72 hours of the injury).

What are the risks of a laceration?

You may have a foreign object in your laceration, even after your healthcare provider has cleaned the wound. This can increase your risk of an infection. Without treatment, your laceration may get infected. If you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, you have a higher risk of an infection.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your laceration is red, warm, or swollen.

  • You have red streaks on your skin coming from your wound.

  • You have white or yellow drainage from the wound that smells bad.

  • You have pain that gets worse, even with treatment.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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