Whether you should see a healthcare provider about a cut or another skin injury depends on its shape, severity, location and risk of infection, and whether medical care could lessen scarring or improve healing.1 You should see a healthcare provider immediately if any of the following are factors with your wound:
- The shape of the wound is jagged.
- The injury is located on your face.
- The edges of the wound are gaping open.
- The injured area contains embedded dirt.
- Blood is spurting out or the bleeding won’t stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure.
- It’s been five years or more since you’ve had a tetanus shot.
After examining the wound, your healthcare provider may clean it and prescribe oral antibiotics. They will also determine whether or not you need stitches to help the wound heal faster and leave less of a visible scar.
Stitches on the face are usually removed after three days. In high-stress parts of the body, like elbows, stitches can stay in for up to 14 days. Alternatives to stitches include adhesive tape, staples, or liquid skin adhesives that work like glue. Liquid adhesives don’t need to be removed.
If you didn’t receive a three-shot series for tetanus, also known as lockjaw, as a child—or if you haven’t had a booster shot within the past 10 years—now’s the time to get caught up, either with that three-shot series or the booster.
For maximum effectiveness, tetanus shots should be given within one to three days of an injury.
If your wound is serious, your healthcare provider may recommend a booster even if you’ve had one between five and 10 years ago. However, getting a tetanus shot more frequently than every five years could result in an allergy to the vaccine, and the vaccine might no longer protect you.
While many people believe it’s the rust on an object that leads to tetanus, it’s actually the dirt that carries most of the risk.