Accidental cuts when chopping food, the skinned knees of youth and other everyday mishaps are common. As such, most people find themselves treating an open wound at some point in time. Knowing how to do so correctly ensures the ability to take the right action quickly and assertively should the need arise.

Immediate Steps

Examine the wound as soon as it occurs. If it’s bleeding, raise the affected area above the heart and apply direct pressure until the bleeding stops. When it has, gently wash the area with soap and water to disinfect it. It’s also acceptable to pour hydrogen peroxide over the wound if washing the area causes the bleeding to begin anew. After cleaning, cover the wound with sterile gauze or a sterile bandage. If the area around the wound is swollen or bruised, apply ice.

Ongoing Care

Keep the wound covered and clean for at least five days, changing the bandage as necessary. Treat any pain caused by the wound by taking acetaminophen as directed on the package. Avoid pain relievers that contain aspirin as it thins the blood and may cause the wound to bleed. It’s also important to heed every mother’s advice and stop picking at it. Leave scabs undisturbed – they protect the delicate new skin forming over the wound and help prevent infection. The scab will fall off on its own when it’s ready. For added protection until the wound is fully healed, apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to the injured area before going out in the sun.

When to See the Doctor

Many open wounds prove minor, and home treatment is adequate for treating them. More severe injuries, however, require a doctor’s care. Get to the doctor immediately if an open wound is more than 1/2 inch deep. Wounds also require a doctor when they bleed for more than 20 minutes or refuse to stop bleeding even when applying direct pressure. If the wound was caused by a severe event like a car accident or fall, it’s important to see a doctor for an evaluation. These types of accidents can cause serious but unseen problems in the body in addition to the visible open wound. Getting checked out can catch less obvious internal issues that are easy to miss after a mishap.