Superglue for Small Wounds
Ross’s email reminded me of superglue. I’ve used it this week as well to fix a small cut. My nephew had a cut in his head a few weeks ago fixed at the local ER with ordinary hardware store superglue.
Superglue is ethyl-cyanoacrylate. While butyl-cyanoacrylate is the improved, proper use medical superglue, ordinary superglue (ethyl-cyanoacrylate) works for small cuts and its used here in third world hospitals. I know lots of doctors and nurses that use it so its safe to say that in spite of being a bit irritant its ok for small wounds.
How to use it
When I first heard of superglue being used for cuts I thought it was interesting but didn’t quite understand how you’re supposed to use it. Since then I’ve done a bit or reading, including a very interesting piece of research by an orthodontists that used superglue to fix a severely injured lip. I’ve also been using it myself when I got cut so this is how I’ve been using it:
1) It must be a small/moderate wound, less than an 1/4 inch deep and no longer than two inches. We’re closing the skin here, anything deeper and more serious requires medical attention.
2)Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. You dont want to leave dirt inside the wound you’re about to close.
3) Dry and make sure you’ve stopped the bleeding. I’ve had good results (specially with fingers) by rasing the wound over my head. A bit of pressure helps too. Apply pressure for a couple minutes. A small amount of bleeding is ok, but you can’t have blood streaming out of the wound you’re trying to fix.
4)Use your fingers to bring the two sides of the wound together and place glue along the cut. Try to be as neat as possible and don´t use more glue than needed. I found out that the cleaner the cut, the easier it is to glue shut and it leaves almost no scar. Some glue will come into contact with the exposed wound even when bringing both sides together. Its not a problem. As the wound closes it will expel that bit of glue and it eventually peals off.
5) Once glue is placed all along the wound, keep both sides together for 3 minutes until the glue dries.
NoteI: If during an emergency you’re forced to do something like this with a larger wound, you want to leave one end not completely glued shut. This is because large wounds will have some infection and puss, and you want a way to drain it. During an accident my son had in his leg, we drained puss for at least two weeks until the wound healed. Of course you need a doctor for such a wound but I’m just telling you what to expect.
Note II: Keep an eye on the wound for any signs of infection. A bit of redness is acceptable, but if it gets warm to touch and the red color spreads you know the infection is getting worse and you need antibiotics and medical help as soon as possible.
None of this is medical advice, just a household tip or two on how you may deal with a small cut during an emergency.
Hi Ferfal, really enjoy your blog and your book as well; currently my dad has my copy. I’m a registered nurse working in an OR up here in America, so I deal with wound closures every day. I would suggest to you and your readers that you not glue wounds any deeper than 1/4″, rather than the 3/4″ recommended in the post (maybe a typo?). There’s just too much risk for infection or for uncontrolled bleeding. Your circumstances will dictate, but generally the shallower and cleaner the wound the more appropriate for gluing.
Your point about leaving an opening for drainage is spot on. As you said, if you start to see any significant drainage, warmth, discoloration, or discolored streaks from the wound, it’s past time for a professional. Supergluing things yourself is a good option if you’re desperate, but if you have access to formal medical care that’s of course your best option for treating whatever injury.
Keep up the great work, and take care,
Hi Graham. Thanks for the correction. I was actually thinking of some of the head cuts ERs around here fix with superglue. You’re right, that’s around 1/4 inch, not half an inch. Sorry for that, we use metric around here.
The lip that I saw pictures of glued together though, that was a serious wound and the doctor still used superglue. Guess the lesson is that while it can be done, when used so extensively you need a doc. When doing it yourself just stick to smaller wounds.
About 15 years ago I had inner ear surgery.
The way they get to the inner ear is to cut the outside of the ear almost all of the way off and then tape it to
your nose to get it out of the way….then drill (or moto-tool) a hole in your skull above the ear canal to reach the inner ear.
After doing the repair, they used medical super glue to glue my ear back on. There was a large compression dressing over the ear that I had to leave on for 24 hours…and had to be carefull for several
more days, but it healed perfectly.
For a few months little pieces of the cyanacrolate would work their way out of the incision area if I scratched or washed it. No pain, very little swelling—overall excellent result–and (unfortunately) my ears are no small piece of flesh and cartilage. Super glue is good stuff.
Mark Dayton, Oh
Thanks Mark for your email. Seems that its used a lot for soft tissues.
This is the PDF document I referred to beofre: Lip suture with isobutyl cianoacrylate (Graphic Warning!:shows actual wounds)
Click on it, its worth reading and it shows how isobutyl cianoacrylate is actually used. Notice Dr. Blanco actually puts the glue INSIDE the wound, THEN presses the sides together. Of course the wound shouldn’t be bleeding much so as to achieve this correctly. Again, for this type of larger wound, go to the doctor. Its still interesting to understand how this works.