A knife slips out of your hand. A lawnmower comes too close to your foot. Or your finger gets jammed in a door. Accidents happen every day. If the tip of your finger or toe gets cut off, you need to take care of it right away. First, you need to try to control the bleeding. Then, get emergency medical help.
What You Should Do
Care for your wound by gently cleaning it with water. Use saline solution if you have it.
- Don’t put alcohol on your finger or toe. This can damage healthy tissue.
- Use a clean cloth or sterile bandage to put firm pressure on the wound to help stop bleeding.
- If the blood soaks through the cloth, don’t remove it, but add more clean ones on top. Keep pressure on the wound until you can get medical help.
How to care for the tip of your finger or toe:
- If you have the cut-off tip, clean it with water. If you have a sterile saline solution, use that to wash it.
- Wrap it with moistened gauze or cloth.
- Put it in a watertight plastic bag and seal it.
- Place the bag on ice in a sealed container or another watertight bag. Don’t let the cut-off part of your finger or toe come in direct contact with the ice. This can cause more damage.
Go to the emergency room. If possible, ask someone to drive. Bring the part of your finger or toe with you.
What Happens in the Emergency Room?
A doctor will ask you about your medical history and about the accident. They then likely will:
- Give you a shot called directly into your finger or toe to numb the pain. This type of painkiller is called a digital block.
- Clean the wound to lower chances of an infection.
- Check your finger or toe and decide how best to treat it.
- Clean out the dead tissue and any other debris in the wound.
- Order an X-ray to see if you have broken a bone.
They also might give you an antibiotic or tetanus shot to prevent an infection.
If blood has pooled under your fingernail or toenail, your doctor may pierce your nail to drain the blood. This lowers the pressure and pain.
Your doctor’s decision will depend on the angle and the depth of the cut. Your treatment options include:
Time. If the wound is small and doesn’t involve the bone, your doctor may leave it to heal on its own. You may need to wear gauze over the wound to protect it.
Skin flap. For a bigger injury, your doctor may take a thicker piece of skin from a nearby area and use it to cover the tip of the finger or toe. If your bone is exposed, you may need reconstructive flap surgery to cover the wound with new skin, fat, and blood vessels.
Replantation. If you’ve cut off a large part of your finger or toe, your doctor may be able to reattach it. This is complicated surgery with a long recovery time. You and your doctor can discuss the pros and cons before you decide.