October 02, 2014 10:25 UTC

Audio / Health Report

When a Cut Finger Is More Serious Than It Might Seem

When a Cut Finger Is More Serious Than It Might Seem
When a Cut Finger Is More Serious Than It Might Seem

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Hospital emergency rooms treat injured fingers all the time. Without treatment, a bad cut can lead to permanent damage. But how should a person know when a bleeding cut is serious enough to require medical attention?

We asked Dr. Martin Brown, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Inova Alexandria Hospital in Virginia.

First, the medical term for a cut or tear in the skin is a laceration. Dr. Brown says the length is usually not as important as the depth. He says a long cut on a finger can likely be treated without a visit to a doctor if the wound is not very deep.

MARTIN BROWN: "If you have a short but deep laceration where there's been a structure underneath that's been damaged -- a tendon, a nerve, a blood vessel -- it may, in fact, need professional attention."

Some injuries -- like a fingertip that gets cut off -- might even require surgery to repair.

MARTIN BROWN: "That requires a specialist to either file down the bone or reattach the fingertip. More often, filing down the bone is what is done because reattaching a fingertip is often not successful."

How a wound bleeds can be a sign of how serious it is. Minor cuts usually produce what is known as venous bleeding. This means the blood flows steadily from the injury. The bleeding will often stop when pressure is put on the wound.

Dr. Brown says in most cases holding direct pressure with clean gauze or a cloth for four to five minutes should stop the bleeding. With a cut finger, holding the hand above the heart can reduce the loss of blood.

But if a cut appears to be pumping blood out with some force, this may be a sign of arterial bleeding. This kind of injury should be treated by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Even a cut that does not require medical attention must be kept clean to prevent infection. Small cuts should be cleaned gently with clean water. Use a washcloth to clean the area if the wound is dirty. Dr. Brown says cuts should be covered with a clean, dry bandage.

Bacteria and other microorganisms can enter the body through a cut in the skin. One kind of infection that can result is tetanus. The first signs of this disease include difficulty opening the mouth -- often called lockjaw -- and difficulty swallowing.

Tetanus can be deadly. But children and adults can be protected against tetanus with vaccinations. Adults should be vaccinated against tetanus every ten years.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Brianna Blake. Next week, learn more about treating serious cuts. I'm Shirley Griffith.

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