Doctor's Casebook: Paper cuts are a real pain but you do need to protect them

Some minor injuries just happen again and again.

Saturday, 24th April 2021, 4:45 pm
Take care with paper cuts. Photo: Getty Images

When I was filing some research paper notes the other day I was given a sudden message that I had too many files in each drawer of the filing cabinet.

As I pushed a file down I brushed the edge of a single piece of paper and experienced the excruciating pain of a paper cut.

Paper cuts are extremely painful, yet because they rarely bleed, or only do for a short time, we regard them as minor nuisance injuries.

But actually, you do just have to take care with them.

The reason that paper cuts on the fingers and the tongue hurt so much is because your fingertips and your tongue are parts of the body which have the most nociceptors.

These are the tiny nerve endings in the skin.

You can do a little experiment on yourself to demonstrate this.

Get a paper clip and unfold it so that you have the two ends exposed.

Squeeze together until they have a gap of a few millimetres.

With your eyes closed, touch the skin on your forearm with them and compare it with the fingertips.

You will feel both points, but if you gradually close the gap, your forearm area will soon experience only a single touch, while on the fingertips the two points have to be literally touching before you feel it as one point.

This is because the fingertips are packed with nerve endings.

You may think the paper edge is smooth and sharp like a blade, but under a magnifying glass it is serrated like a saw.

The paper cut is effectively a micro-saw wound and your nociceptors feel the ripping and cutting of the torn skin - ouch!

They also hurt for a long time because they are superficial wounds and don’t cut deep enough to draw blood.

For that reason, the nerve endings remain exposed.

Also, if there are irritants in the paper they directly stimulate the nerves.

To help reduce the pain, you can press firmly on the cut.

The pressure will quickly over-ride the cut sensation.

Wash it well and then apply a disinfectant and cover with Vaseline to seal the wound or cover with a plaster.

Don’t leave the paper cut exposed as there is always the risk of infection, because the cuts don’t bleed.

Just a little care will protect the wound.