What To Do If Your Child Smashes Their Finger In a Door

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You may know the familiar sounds already. Your kids are scrambling over each other into the back of the van, yelling, the sliding door is pushed shut and then . . . a blood-curdling scream is let out as your youngest realizes the door has shut on their hand.

Almost every mom has had this experience before (or likely will), and while it’s certainly not life-threatening for your child, the mere idea of their pain and suffering can send a jolt through your heart.

Typically this type of injury does not result in a broken bone but rather bruising and trauma to the soft tissues in the finger and around the nail bed. You may notice some swelling, discoloration, tenderness, and even bleeding if the skin was cut when the door made impact with the hand.

Depending on the severity of the injury, you may be able to treat it at home without a trip to the doctor. Experts recommend you:

Wash the affected area with warm soap and water. Like with any injury that could potentially disseminate contaminants into the skin, washing away bacteria should be a number one priority. This can ensure that an infection doesn’t develop down the line as well as help flush away small debris that could be caught in the wound.

Stop the bleeding. If there is open skin that results from the edge of the door slamming onto your child’s finger, work to stop the bleeding once the wound is clean. Use a clean cloth you have handy or sterile gauze and apply pressure to the wound. The blood should begin to clot inside the wound and stop oozing after a few minutes.

Trim hanging skin and nails. If you are comfortable with it, clean a pair of fine scissors thoroughly with rubbing alcohol and trim skin or nails that are excessively hanging off the wound. This will prevent them from getting caught and torn further during a bandage removal.

Bandage the wound. If there is open skin, apply antibiotic ointment and bandage it with a band-aid or large piece of gauze and sterile wrap. If there is just bruising and swelling, you do not necessarily need to bandage the injured finger unless your child is worried about accidentally making it worse by hitting it on something.

Ice the finger/hand. Use ice packs on the hand for 10 to 20 minutes at a time to help reduce swelling and inflammation, and to numb the throbbing finger (which also helps alleviate pain). If pain persists, you may want to give your child a dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Monitor the injury. Change the bandage on your child’s hand daily until they are no longer sensitive and monitor the nail and nail bed for further discoloration. Moderate to extreme darkening under the nail bed indicates severe bruising which could cause the nail to die, fall off, and regrow.

Nail regrowth is totally natural and looks much worse than it actually is. If a nail is severely compromised, it will die within days or weeks of the original injury and then grow back over a period of one to four months depending on the age of your child. As a new nail grows underneath the dead nail, it lifts the dead nail up and off. The dead nail can be trimmed or simply left alone to fall off when it is ready.

There are some instances of hand injuries associated with closing doors that require more than simple at-home bandaging and monitoring. Doctors recommend you seek a medical evaluation immediately if:

  • Swelling is excessive and returns even after icing

  • The base of the injured fingernail has popped out from under the skin

  • Your child’s range of motion is limited and they can’t open and close their hand

  • Dirt or debris cannot be washed out of the hand after 15 minutes

  • The fingernail has been torn

  • Pain is severe and won’t subside with icing or medicine

  • Your child is less than 1 year old

  • The skin on hand is split open or gaping and may require stitches

  • The skin on the knuckles has been cut

You should also call your doctor if your child’s pain doesn’t go away completely after a few days as well as if they experienced a cut when the door slammed on their finger and they haven’t had a tetanus shot in over 5 years.

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