Many who go hunting or camping often bring a knife or two along with them for practical purposes. However, accidents can happen, or emergency situations can occur, leading to knife wounds of varying severity. Even small wounds to the chest and abdomen can be fatal, especially if the blade punctures deeply, and if—as is very possible—the wound goes unnoticed until long after the actual incident due to the numbing effects of adrenaline.
In such situations it is crucial to have basic first aid supplies at hand, and the knowledge of how to clean a knife wound to minimize damage. Whether the wound is a shallow cut, a deeper gash, or a stab wound, laying the groundwork until health professionals arrive on the scene can affect the outcome of the injury.
Key Dangers of Knife Wounds
A knife wound may cause one or more of the following, which should be kept in mind while cleaning and handling a knife wound.
- Blood Loss. Any type of knife wound will bleed, but stabbing, especially with a sharp blade, poses a greater chance of significant blood loss. Dull knives can cause blood vessels to spasm, while sharp knives leave the vessels open, leading to greater blood loss. A significant amount of blood loss will cause your body temperature and blood pressure to decrease, posing a significant danger to normal bodily function.
- While even a cut from a kitchen knife can cause infection, the risks of infection are heightened with switchblades, Swiss Army knives, and hunting knives. These are less likely to be kept sterile, and the type of germs on these blades may be more harmful as well.
- After traumas such as a knife wound, the body may go into shock. This could numb the pain of the wound, resulting is a delayed response and lost time in addressing the damage. Shock is often a result of significant blood loss, which drops blood pressure and disrupts normal cellular functions.
These three things, along with organ failure, are most likely to cause fatality after a knife wound. However, there are ways to clean a knife wound that hold these dangers at bay.
How to Clean a Knife Wound
Below are some tips to clean knife wounds. Note that these will be of little use in preventing permanent injury or death if the knife has punctured a key artery or organ.
- Examine the individual to determine the severity of their injuries. You should ascertain the number and severity of all wounds before starting treatment, unless there is an obvious wound that is the more severe.
- Establish a sterile environment. This is obviously not always possible, but wear a face mask and sterile gloves if they are available. If not, at the very least wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. Keep non-sterile objects and surfaces away from the wound.
- If applicable, try to leave the knife in the body. This only applies to stab wounds, but is a key point. Leaving the weapon in staunches the flow of blood, and prevents any additional damage caused by the removal of the weapon.
- Stem the flow of blood from the biggest wound. If a wound is spurting blood, the knife likely hit an artery. This wound should be attended to first and immediately. Apply pressure to stop bleeding, but a tourniquet may be needed in more serious cases to cut off blood flow. Keep some sort of barrier between yourself and the patient’s blood, whether with gloves or a clean cloth.
- Attend to secondary wounds. If secondary injuries are in the limbs, have the patient elevate that limb above their heart to slow blood flow. For example, have them raise their arms above their heads, or lean back and raise their legs above their abdomen.
- Clean wounds with water, peroxide, or alcohol. After you have the bleeding under control, clean out any debris, if applicable. Then use clean water (mixed with salt if available), to cleanse out the wound. If clean water is not available, use peroxide or alcohol.
- Apply antibiotic ointment. If you have it, apply antibiotic ointment to wounds that are clean and have stopped bleeding. Again, be mindful that your hands and/or the applicator are clean. Reapply periodically.
- Close wounds with bandages. Butterfly bandages are ideal. However, clean duct tape will work in a pinch to keep the wound away from nonsterile surfaces and moisture. If a major wound does not stop bleeding, do not attempt to close it. Instead, pack it with clean cloths and loosely secure with tape.
For more severe wounds, these steps are simply a placeholder until professional help arrives. In such situations, simply knowing the basics of how to clean a knife wound is extremely helpful.