How to Stop Bleeding From a Minor Head Wound

Topic Overview

Minor cuts on the head often bleed heavily because the face and scalp have many blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Although this amount of bleeding may be alarming, many times the injury is not severe and the bleeding will stop with treatment you can do at home. But it is important to know the difference between wounds you can treat at home and head wounds that need emergency treatment.

When emergency treatment is necessary

If a cut from a head injury is deep enough to have penetrated the skull, emergency treatment is needed. Call 911 or other emergency services immediately. Do not apply pressure if:

  • The skull is deformed. Signs of deformity may include sunken areas, visible bone fragments, or exposed brain.
  • There is also an injury to the eye.
  • Any blood or clear fluid is draining from the nose or ears.

Stopping the bleeding from a minor wound

  • Before you try to stop the bleeding:
    • Wash your hands well with soap and water (if available).
    • If treating another person's wound, put on latex gloves, if you have them, before applying pressure to the wound. If gloves are not available, use several layers of fabric or plastic bags between your hand and the wound. Use your bare hands to apply pressure only as a last resort.
  • Have the person lie down.
  • Remove any visible objects from the wound. Do not attempt to clean out the wound.
  • Press firmly on the wound with gauze, a clean cloth, or the cleanest material available. If there is an object in the wound that you can't remove, apply pressure around the object, not directly over it.
  • Apply steady pressure for a full 15 minutes. Use a clock to time the 15 minutes. Resist the urge to peek after a few minutes to see if bleeding has stopped. If blood soaks through the cloth, apply another one without lifting the first.
  • If after 15 minutes of steady pressure minimal bleeding (oozing) continues when the pressure is released, reapply direct pressure to the wound for another 15 minutes. Direct pressure may be applied up to three times (total of 45 minutes) for minimal bleeding.
  • If moderate to severe bleeding has not significantly slowed or stopped after 15 minutes, continue to apply firm pressure, elevate the area that is bleeding, and contact a health professional.
  • Watch for signs of shock, which is a life-threatening situation that requires emergency care. Signs of shock (most of which will be present) include:
    • Passing out (losing consciousness).
    • Feeling very dizzy or lightheaded, like you may pass out.
    • Feeling very weak or having trouble standing up.
    • Being less alert. You may suddenly be unable to respond to questions, or you may be confused, restless, or fearful.

Credits

Author Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Updated July 9, 2008

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