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When to get medical advice for cuts and bleeding

You should go to your GP, GP out-of-hours service, hospital emergency department (ED) or a minor injury unit if:

  • you are worried
  • 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)
  • there is an object stuck in the wound
  • the cut is on your child's face
  • they have a bad cut on their hand, especially if they have trouble moving their fingers or thumb
  • they have a cut on the palm of their hand that looks infected (these types of infection can spread quickly)
  • your child has any numbness near the wound
  • they are having trouble moving any body parts
  • the wound is very large or the injury has caused a lot of tissue damage
  • your child has a persistent or significant loss of sensation near the wound
  • the wound was caused by a bite from an animal or a human
  • you think there is a risk of infection

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 a minor injury unit if you think it might be a more serious injury or a broken limb.

Related topic

Information on 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
  • don't wash a wound that is bleeding heavily — just try and stop the bleeding
  • speak calmly to reassure your child
  • make sure they are resting comfortably
  • do not leave them alone
  • 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 gloves

Look after yourself after your child is seen too. 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

Bring your child to your GP or GP out-of-hours service if you think there is a risk that the wound could become infected or if you think 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 (100.4°F) or above

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

In the hospital emergency department (ED), your child's wound will be examined to determine whether there's a risk of infection.

Risk of tetanus

Your child may need an injection to prevent tetanus (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 pieces 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: 28/03/2019
Next review due: 28/03/2022