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When to get medical advice for cuts and bleeding

Always get medical advice for cuts and bleeding if you are worried about your child.

Go to your GP, GP out-of-hours service, hospital emergency department (ED) or an injury unit if your child has:

Large wounds

  • there is heavy bleeding
  • there is a large wound or severe cut (for example, if there is a gap between the edges of the wound)
  • the wound is very large or the injury has caused a lot of tissue damage
  • a body part has been severed, for example a finger or tip of a finger

Cuts on certain places

If the cut is on your child’s:

  • face
  • hand, especially if they have trouble moving their fingers or thumb
  • palm of their hand that looks infected (these types of infection can spread quickly)

Risk of infection or other damage

  • any numbness near the wound
  • trouble moving any body parts
  • persistent or significant loss of sensation near the wound
  • you think there is a risk of infection
  • there is an object stuck in the wound
  • the wound was caused by a bite from an animal or a human

If you are not sure whether to go to your GP or your hospital emergency department, phone your GP surgery. They will give you advice.

Go to your nearest hospital emergency department (ED) or an injury unit if you think it might be a more serious injury or a broken limb.

Where to take your child in an emergency

Waiting for an ambulance

While waiting for the ambulance you should:

  • put on gloves if you can
  • cover the wound and press against it
  • speak calmly to reassure your child
  • make sure they are resting comfortably
  • make sure they do not get too cold or too hot
  • keep a close eye on them for signs of shock, like changes in skin colour, faster or slower breathing, cold hands and feet
  • wash your hands as soon as possible afterwards, even if you wore glove

Don't

  • do not leave the child alone

  • do not wash a wound that is bleeding heavily — just try and stop the bleeding

If a body part has been severed:

  • place it in a plastic bag or wrap it in cling film
  • do not wash it

Look after yourself when your child is being treated. You may be in shock.

Talk to someone you trust about what happened. Try and get rest and make sure you eat well.

Risk of infection

Non-urgent advice: Go to your GP or GP out-of-hours service if you think:

  • there is a risk that the wound could become infected
  • it's already infected

A wound is at risk of infection if:

  • it has been contaminated with dirt, pus or other bodily fluids
  • there was something in the wound before it was cleaned, such as gravel or piece of glass
  • it has a jagged edge
  • it's longer than 5cm (2 inches)
  • the wound was caused by a bite from an animal or a human

Signs a wound has become infected include:

  • redness around the wound
  • swelling and increasing pain in the affected area
  • pus forming in or around the wound
  • feeling generally unwell
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38°C degrees Celsius or above

An infected wound can usually be successfully treated with a short course of antibiotics.

In the hospital emergency department (ED), staff will examine your child's wound for risk of infection.

Risk of tetanus

Your child may need an injection to prevent tetanus. Tetanus is a very severe, potentially fatal illness caused by a bacteria that releases a toxin.

Wounds that could be at risk of tetanus include:

  • wounds contaminated with soil, poo, saliva or foreign bodies - this includes all bite injuries
  • puncture wounds - for example, a pointy object like a nail that pierces the skin
  • avulsions - where a piece of skin is torn away
  • burns or crush injuries

If you are worried about your child's risk of tetanus, contact your GP.

Even if all your child's vaccines are up to date it is still important to talk to your GP or your practice nurse.

Your GP may give your child an early tetanus booster vaccine if they have a wound that is at risk of tetanus.

Page last reviewed: 10 November 2022
Next review due: 10 November 2025