According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, almost 90% of all work-related nail gun accidents result in puncture wounds. These injuries occur mainly in fingers and hands, but being hit in the foot or thigh isn’t uncommon either.
Away from the jobsite, nail puncture wounds are common, too. We’ve all heard stories of kids running barefoot through an old home, only to step on a rusty nail and require medical attention. Chances are you won’t be telling that story around the table this Thanksgiving, but many families could. Every year, 5% of childrens’ visits to the emergency room are for puncture wounds.
Can I Treat My Nail Wound At Home?
Puncture wounds can be deep or shallow, serious or minor. And most medical professionals agree that minor puncture wounds can be effectively treated at home. So how do you know if your wound is “minor”? Answer these questions:
- Is the wound deeper than a half inch (for an ad-hoc ruler, the width of the average human thumb is about one inch)?
- Is the embedded object more than half an inch wide?
- Has the wound been contaminated by dirt?
- Was the puncture wound caused by an animal (including human) bite?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, you need to see a doctor. The main concern when thinking about punctures is infection, not excessive bleeding. Most punctures don’t bleed a lot; if it does, call for medical attention.
But if your wound is not bleeding excessively, is not too deep, and is not dirty, you can probably treat it at home, using products that you already have.
Puncture Wound Home Treatment
What You’ll Need:
- Alcohol (to clean tweezers)
- Clean washcloth or medical bandage
- Running water
1. Remove The Object
Again, if the wound is bleeding profusely, do not remove the object yourself. An embedded nail or splinter can actually help stop blood flow, by promoting clotting and blocking punctured blood vessels. In this case, you should reduce movement as much as possible, call 911, and wait.
Nails can be pulled out gently with tweezers, just don’t twist the object too much. Try to pull it straight out. Small splinters come out with tweezers, too, or you can try gently applying tape and seeing if the splinter sticks. Clean your tweezers with alcohol before using them, but do not use alcohol to actually clean the wound.
Make sure there are no pieces left in the wound; this can increase the likelihood of infection. Check the hole, but also inspect the object itself. If it’s a nail, you’ll probably be able to tell whether or not its fully intact.
2. Allow The Wound To Bleed
If bleeding is minimal, let it happen. The flow of blood serves to clean out the wound and hopefully, any debris still caught in the hole will be forced out. You can do this up to five minutes, or a minimum of two. If blood is spurting out, stop it immediately.
3. Stop Bleeding
Apply firm (but gentle) direct pressure to the wound, using a clean cloth or medical bandage. You might have to wait several minutes; just check periodically to see if it’s stopped. If it does not, call 911.
4. Wash The Wound
Rinse the wound with clean, clear water for about five minutes.
Dr. Lewis First of Vermont Children’s Hospital recommends beginning the wash with running water, “at high speed” and then adding soap to scrub the wound. You can watch a video of Dr. First describing the process here.
Using a gentle dishwashing soap, like Dawn or Ivory, is a good choice. Do not use products containing alcohol, or fizzy ones, like hydrogen peroxide. These can actually hurt body tissues and slow down the healing process.
After you’ve washed the area, check for debris again. Pick any bits out gently with your tweezers. If there’s still some you can’t remove, it’s time for a doctor.
5. Bandage The Wound
Some punctures heal well quickly, without a bandage. But if the hole is particularly large, and you think that dirt or debris might irritate it, use a bandage to cover the wound. Antibiotic creams, like Neosporin, can help kill the bacteria that lead to infection.
6. Check It Regularly
Change the bandage at least daily. When you do, check for redness, swelling, warmth, or drainage (pus). If you find anything, the wound might be infected and you should call your doctor.