’Tis the Season for Paper Cuts

By: Jenna Trubschenck, M.S. PA-C

Finger with a small cut, isolated on white

Last minute shopping means last minute wrapping. Pieces of hastily cut wrapping paper are landing everywhere: In the tree! In the curtains! In my finger? Ow! I’m sure I can’t be the only victim of this deceptively innocuous archenemy of fingers. And there are reasons why paper cuts hurt so much.

Let’s start by blaming the source: the paper itself. The stronger the tensile strength (or resistance) of the paper, the less it bends. Most new paper, especially paper with glossy edges like wrapping paper, has great tensile strength. Therefore, it has enough resistance to slice into flesh. Also, paper does not have the smooth edges it seems to, as can be seen under magnification. The edge of the paper does not cut smoothly like a razor would. Instead, because it’s serrated, it saws into the skin.

Fingertips are packed full of nociceptors, which detect things that could be of potential harm, including temperature, chemical and mechanical threats. The pain receptors respond not only to the physical damage from the paper cut, but also to the debris left behind from the paper such as fibers, chemicals and waxes. Because there is not much bleeding, the wound cannot clot and seal. Therefore, the nociceptors are constantly reactivated as they are exposed to the environment. Ouch!

If you find yourself sucking your finger after it’s attacked by your wrapping, don’t. Paper cuts seem like mild injuries, but if infected they can cause a lot more problems. There have even been documented cases of MRSA developing in an infected paper cut. Keep the wound clean and dry. If you feel the need to apply something, Aquaphor will help it heal.

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