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What Should I Do About Cuts, Scrapes, and Bites?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 01, 2021

Cuts and scrapes are going to happen, no matter how careful you are.  Most times, they aren’t too serious. But when they are, it’s important to know how to treat them yourself or whether you need to go to the doctor.

Call 911 if:

  • A cut is bleeding severely
  • Blood is spurting out
  • Bleeding can't be stopped after 10 minutes of firm and steady pressure

In general, a cut that needs stitches should be repaired within 6 hours of the injury. The exception is cuts to the face and scalp, which generally can be repaired up to 24 hours after the injury.

Take the following steps for minor cuts and lacerations.

1. Stop the Bleeding

  • Apply direct pressure on the area.

2. Clean and Protect

  • Clean the area with warm water and gentle soap.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment to reduce the chance of infection.
  • Put a sterile bandage on the area. In some people, antibiotic ointments may cause a rash. If this happens, stop using the ointment.

 

3. Call a Doctor

Call a doctor if:

  • The cut is deep or over a joint
  • You cannot get the cut or laceration clean
  • The injury is a deep puncture wound or the person has not had a recent (within the last 5 to 10 years) tetanus shot or booster
  • The cut is from a human or animal bite

4. Follow Up

  • For a minor cut or laceration, remove bandage after a couple of days to promote healing.
  • See a doctor if the cut doesn't heal or shows signs of infection, including redness, swelling, pus, or excessive pain.

Steps to take care of animal or human bites are similar to what is suggested for cuts and scrapes. But you should be aware that bite injuries can be serious.

Call 911 if:

  • The person has been badly wounded by the bite.
  • The wound will not stop bleeding after 10 minutes of firm, steady pressure.
  • Blood spurts from the wound.

1. Stop the Bleeding

  • Apply firm, direct pressure with sterile gauze or clean cloth until bleeding stops.

2. Clean and Protect

For a superficial scratch or wound from a bite:

  • Clean the wound with mild soap and water. Rinse for several minutes under running water.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
  • Cover the wound with gauze or a bandage.

3. Get Medical Help

  • See a doctor about any human bite that has broken the skin. There is a high risk of infection. Signs of infection include redness, pain, swelling, or pus.
  • Tell the doctor if you have stiffness or numbness in the area or you can’t move. There may be damage to tendons or nerves.
  • Get medical help immediately for any animal bite that is more than a superficial scratch or if the animal was a wild animal or stray. It doesn’t matter if the injury doesn’t seem that serious. The risk of infection is high.
  • If the animal's owner is available, find out whether the animal's rabies shots are up to date. Give this information to your doctor.
  • If the animal was a stray or wild animal, call the local health department or animal control immediately.

4. Follow Up

  • Your doctor will make sure the wound is thoroughly clean.
  • They may numb the wound and look for any deeper damage.
  • If there is any risk of rabies infection from the animal bite, your doctor will suggest anti-rabies treatment.
  • You may need stitches depending on how big the wound is and where it is.
  • You may also need a tetanus shot or booster.
  • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
  • They also may suggest acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Medline Plus: "Cuts and puncture wounds."

American College of Emergency Physicians Foundation: "Cuts and abrasions."

University of Maryland Medical Center: "First Aid: Animal Bites and Rabies."

KidsHealth.org: "Animal Bites."

FamilyDoctor.org: "Cat and Dog Bites."

Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine: "What You Should Know About Animal Bites."

American Society for Surgery of the Hand: "Animal Bites."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Human Bites."

American Association of Hand Surgery: "Human Bites."

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh: "Treatment for Human Bites."

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