Ask a Maui Doctor: Can I Swim in the Ocean or Streams if I Have a Cut?
Doctors at Minit Medical answer some of the questions submitted by readers.
Each week, a doctor from Minit Medical Kahului or Lahaina will answer questions that have been submitted by readers. Submit your own medical related questions to our doctors at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Q: I cut my leg the other day, it’s not a deep cut, but I’m planning on going to Hāna this weekend. Is it okay to swim in the streams and ocean with the cut?
A: The answer to this question all depends on the size of the cut and how long since it happened. Skin infections are very common in Hawaiʻi with the warm tropical climate.
Bacteria that can cause infections can be found almost anywhere but are especially prevalent in the ocean and streams. Any cut or scrape is a potential entry point for these bacteria to get into your skin and cause an infection.
The first thing you should do when you get any cut is rinse it under running water for 1-2 minutes and wash with soap. If it’s a dirty cut, you should use an antiseptic such as hydrogen peroxide. Small cuts and scrapes need to be kept clean and out of the water for a minimum of 48 hours so the body has time to lay down a protective barrier.
Large scrapes, cuts that may need stitches, or cuts that bleed should be evaluated by a doctor to determine how long you should be out of the water.
If you do go swimming with a cut, you need to wash it out with an antiseptic and apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage as soon as you get out of the water. If you have been in the water with a cut, make sure to keep a close eye out for signs of infection.
Signs of infection usually arise two days after being exposed to bacteria and means you need to see your doctor to maybe start an antibiotic. Signs of infection would be increasing warmth and redness, increasing pain or tenderness, or discharge from the wound. It can be helpful to take a picture of your cut every day to see if it is getting better or worse.
Lastly, you should make sure your tetanus vaccination booster is up to date at least within the past 10 years, and if not, you need to see your doctor or an urgent care clinic to have that updated.
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