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Taking Care of Cuts and Scrapes

Medically reviewed by Til Jolly, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 7, 2023

Cuts and scrapes are an everyday occurrence for most people–especially if children are involved! Most of these wounds will end up being minor and can be treated at home. 


Major Wounds


Some significant cuts and abrasions will need emergency care. If the wound is longer than ½ inch, is wider than ½ inch, has jagged edges, or blood spurts from it, you should seek immediate medical attention as you may need stitches. Additionally, there may be a risk of infection if debris such as dirt or glass has become stuck in the wound or if an animal or human bite caused the injury. If there are any signs of infection on the skin around the cut, medical care might be required.


Any deep wounds involve a risk for tetanus infection, so your tetanus vaccination must be up to date. If you have not had either a tetanus shot or a tetanus booster in the last ten years, you should make sure you get one as soon as possible.


Cuts to the head or face may need special attention. If you are concerned about a blow to the head, contact emergency services immediately.


Minor Wounds


The first step in dealing with any minor cut or scrape is to wash your hands to ensure that they are clean to lower the risk of infection of the wound.


You should then check to see if the wound is still bleeding. If it is, apply firm, direct pressure using a clean bandage or cloth to control the bleeding. You should also elevate the wound above the level of the injured person’s heart if possible. For most minor injuries, the bleeding should stop after a few minutes of pressure. However, if, after applying consistent pressure for around ten minutes, the flow of blood continues, you should go to an urgent care center as you may need stitches.


Next Video >>

Emergency Room - Stitches and Antibiotic Ointment

Emergency Room - Stitches and Antibiotic Ointment

Once the bleeding has stopped, clean out any debris that may have entered the wound with water. The best way to do this is under a running tap using cool water. You can then clean the skin around the wound with soap and a soft clean cloth, but try to keep any soap out of the cut to avoid irritation. If necessary, anything that doesn’t wash out can be removed with tweezers that have been sterilized with alcohol. If you can’t get debris out of the wound, go to an urgent care center. Using iodine or hydrogen peroxide to clean the injury is not recommended as they might harm the skin cells in and around the wound. 


Provided the bleeding has stopped and the cut is clean of any visible dirt or debris, the next step would be to apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment or cream to prevent infection. You can also use petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, to lower the chances of developing a scar.


As long as the cut is a place where it won’t get rubbed by clothing or get any dirt in the wound, it is better to leave it uncovered.


If you need to protect the cut, band-aids are sufficient for minor abrasions. For more extensive wounds, you can use a sterile bandage or a sterile gauze pad. If you do this, it is recommended to change the dressing with some clean gauze or a bandage at least once a day. Try to keep the bandage clean and dry.


In the case of injuries that cover a large area, such as scrapes, it is best to keep the wound moist. A sealed bandage works best for this.


Next Video >>

Emergency Room - Wound Closure

Emergency Room - Wound Closure

Management and Continued Care for Minor Cuts


Most minor cuts and wounds will heal themselves. Your body is programmed in the immediate aftermath of any injury to begin repairing the damage. It will send white blood cells to the site of the wound to counter any bacteria that may have entered the body. Typically a scab will form over the cut, which will provide protection to the tissue that is healing underneath.


Continue to check any wound for signs of infection. If a wound begins to develop redness, warmth, pus, or increased excessive pain, contact a healthcare professional.


When to See a Doctor


If you are unsure whether you have a minor injury or the type of wound that needs medical care, there are a few ways to help you make that decision. One of the main deciding factors is the location. If the cut is in a place where it is more likely to get infected, such as the hand or the foot, it may be better to go to your doctor for treatment. Similarly, if it is on a joint where the wound may repeatedly split open, you may need to get stitches. If a wound is on the face, you may want to see a healthcare professional for cosmetic help. If the wound shows signs of infection, it’s time to call your healthcare professional.

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