Do’s & Don’ts For Cuts, Scrapes & Wounds

Mother putting on bandage on daughter

Mother with daughter (8-9)

What’s the proper care for minor cuts and scrapes? Wounds always hurt, but the degree of pain will vary according to the nature, location, and severity of the injury. Minor cuts and scrapes usually don’t require a trip to the emergency room. Yet the right treatment is essential to avoid infection or other complications. These guidelines can help you care for simple wounds.

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How should I clean a wound?

The best way to clean a cut, scrape or puncture wound (such as a wound from a nail) is with cool water. You can hold the wound under running water or fill a tub with cool water and pour it from a cup over the wound.

Use soap and a soft washcloth to clean the skin around the wound. Try to keep soap out of the wound itself because soap can cause irritation. Use tweezers that have been cleaned in isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) to remove any dirt that remains in the wound after washing.

Even though it may seem that you should use a stronger cleansing solution (such as hydrogen peroxide or iodine), these things may irritate wounds. Ask your family doctor if you feel you must use something other than water.

What about bleeding?

Bleeding helps clean out wounds. Most small cuts or scrapes will stop bleeding in a short time. Wounds on the face, head or mouth will sometimes bleed a lot because these areas are rich in blood vessels.

To stop the bleeding, apply firm but gentle pressure on the cut with a clean cloth, tissue or piece of gauze. If the blood soaks through the gauze or cloth you’re holding over the cut, don’t take it off. Just put more gauze or another cloth on top of what you already have in place and apply more pressure for 20 to 30 minutes.

If your wound is on an arm or leg, raising it above your heart will also help slow the bleeding.

Should I use a bandage?

Leaving a wound uncovered helps it stay dry and helps it heal. If the wound isn’t in an area that will get dirty or be rubbed by clothing, you don’t have to cover it.

If it’s in an area that will get dirty (such as your hand) or be irritated by clothing (such as your knee), cover it with an adhesive strip (one brand: Band-Aid) or with sterile gauze and adhesive tape. Change the bandage each day to keep the wound clean and dry.

Certain wounds, such as scrapes that cover a large area of the body, should be kept moist and clean to help reduce scarring and speed healing. Bandages used for this purpose are called occlusive or semiocclusive bandages. You can buy them in drug stores without a prescription. Your family doctor will tell you if he or she thinks this type of bandage is best for you.

Should I use an antibiotic ointment?

Antibiotic ointments (some brand names: Neosporin, Ultra Mide) help healing by keeping out infection and by keeping the wound clean and moist. A bandage does pretty much the same thing. If you have stitches, your doctor will tell you whether he or she wants you to use an antibiotic ointment. Most minor cuts and scrapes will heal just fine without antibiotic ointment, but it can help the wound close up and help reduce scarring.

What should I do about scabs?

Nothing. Scabs are the body’s way of bandaging itself. They form to protect wounds from dirt. It’s best to leave them alone and not pick at them. They will fall off by themselves when the time is right.

When should I call my doctor?

Call your doctor if your wound is deep, if you can’t get the edges to stay together or if the edges are jagged. Your doctor may want to close your wound with stitches or skin adhesive. These things can help reduce the amount of scarring.

1.    Do I need Stitches?

A wound that is more than 1/4-inch (6 millimeters) deep or is gaping or jagged edged and has fat or muscle protruding usually requires stitches. Adhesive strips or butterfly tape may hold a minor cut together, but if you can’t easily close the wound, see your doctor as soon as possible. Proper closure within a few hours reduces the risk of infection.

2.    How do I know if it’s infected?

See your doctor if the wound isn’t healing or you notice any redness, increasing pain, drainage, warmth or swelling.

3.    Do I need a tetanus shot?

Doctors recommend you get a tetanus shot every 10 years. If your wound is deep or dirty and your last shot was more than five years ago, your doctor may recommend a tetanus shot booster. Get the booster as soon as possible after the injury.