As common as they are paper cuts always seem to come as a quick and painful surprise. Though usually nothing more than a minor injury, these tiny cuts sting, bleed, and can even become infected.

As with any injury, when you get a paper cut, your body directs white blood cells to the injured area, releasing antibodies that fight and prevent infection and, in the process, causing inflammation.

As a result, you may notice the skin around the cut is red and swollen. This inflammatory response is similar to inflammation elsewhere in your body. Although most skin infections remain localized, there is a slight chance they can lead to more serious infections in your blood or bone tissue.

Bacteria such as staph can live on the surface of your skin and, when you cut yourself, can enter your bloodstream through that cut. It's important to keep your hands clean, and, if you get a paper cut, to clean the area right away with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. After cleaning, dab the area with antibiotic cream or ointment and cover it with a bandage until it begins to heal.

Small as they are, paper cuts hurt big because they usually occur on a finger where there are more specialized nerve fibers per square inch than anywhere else in the body, according to Liesa Harte, MD, a Functional Medicine Physician in Austin, TX. Because of this, the brain gets multiple pain signals from a simple cut.

Your first instinct may be to literally lick your wound, and in the case of a slight paper cut, that may be okay. Saliva contains natural antibiotics but it also contains bacteria that can be harmful outside of your mouth, so it's still important to wash and treat the area as you would any other cut or scrape.

No matter how small the cut, see your doctor or head to an emergency room immediately if it worsens dramatically or results in swelling beyond the immediate area. This could be the first sign that a staph or strep infection has worked its way into deeper tissue, or your bloodstream.

What concerns infectious health experts most these days are antibiotic-resistant infections that do not respond to standard treatment and can quickly spread, including rare but notorious infections from so-called flesh-eating bacteria.

These infections begin with bacteria that enters the body through a cut or crack in the skin and can quickly spread through the bloodstream to infect the lungs, kidneys, and other organs. That's when a paper cut, especially one that draws blood, becomes much more than a minor injury.

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.



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