Lacerations (Cuts) Without Stitches in Children

What is a laceration?

A laceration is a cut, tear or opening in the skin caused by an injury. These cuts may be small, and need only minor treatment at home. Or, they may be large enough to need emergency medical care.

How do I know if my child's cut needs stitches?

Cuts that don't involve fat or muscle tissue (superficial), are not bleeding heavily, are less than 1/2 inch long and not wide open or gaping, and don't involve the face can usually be managed at home without stitches. The goals of caring for a wound are to stop the bleeding and reduce the chance of scarring and infection.

First-aid for cuts that don't need stitches include:

  • Calm your child and let them know you can help.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after caring for the cut.

  • Apply pressure with a clean cloth or bandage for several minutes to stop bleeding.

  • Wash the cut area well with soap and water, but don't scrub the wound. Remove any dirt particles from the area and let the water from the faucet run over the cut for several minutes. A dirty cut or scrape that is not well cleaned can cause an infection and scarring. If your child keeps resisting water running over the wound, you can soak it in the bathtub or in a clean container.

  • Apply an antiseptic ointment.

  • Cover the area with an adhesive bandage or gauze pad if the area is on the hands or feet, or if it's likely to drain onto clothing. Change the dressing and reapply the antiseptic ointment at least every day and whenever it gets wet or dirty. 

  • Check the area each day and keep it clean and dry.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

If your child's wound needs more than minor treatment, see your child's healthcare provider or go to your local urgent care center, or emergency room. In general, call your child's provider for cuts that are:

  • Deep, gaping open and wide, or longer than 1/2 inch

  • Located on the face or close to the eye

  • Caused by a puncture wound or dirty or rusty object

  • Embedded with debris, such as dirt, stones, or gravel

  • Ragged or have separated edges

  • Caused by an animal or human bite

  • Very painful

  • Showing signs of infection, such as increased warmth, redness, swelling, or drainage

  • Linked to numbness or inability to move a finger or toe or a joint. These may mean injury to a nerve or tendon, or both. 

You should also call your child's healthcare provider if your child has not had a tetanus shot within the past 5 years, if you are unsure when your child's last tetanus shot was given, if your child has not received at least 3 tetanus shots to date, or if you are concerned about the wound and have questions.

Call 911

Call 911 for cuts that are:

  • Bleeding heavily and don't stop after 5 to 10 minutes of direct pressure. Put pressure directly on the cut with gauze or a clean cloth for 5 to 10 minutes without stopping to look at the cut. If the cloth becomes soaked with blood, put a new cloth on top of the old one. Don't lift off the original cloth.

  • In addition to another injury, especially a head injury or broken bone

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
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