The small hazards that can lead to minor cuts and scrapes are a part of everyday life. All it takes is one slip of focus while slicing bread and you've cut your finger. Or you trip on a curb and skin your knee.
Get immediate medical attention for a wound that is deep, bleeds heavily, or has something embedded in it. If it's a minor cut or scrape, here's what to do:
Clean the Cut
First wash your hands with soap and water.
Then rinse the cut or scrape with cool water to remove dirt and debris. Hold the area under running water or pour clean water over it from a cup.
You don't need to use stronger cleaning solutions -- such as hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or rubbing alcohol -- to treat minor cuts and scrapes, as they may irritate the wound. Cool clean water should be fine for cleaning the wound.
Stop the Bleeding
A small amount of blood can help clean out the wound. Smaller cuts and abrasions usually stop bleeding on their own. A cut to the head or hand may bleed more because those areas have a lot of blood vessels.
To stop the bleeding, gently apply firm, direct pressure using a clean cloth or gauze. Continue to hold the pressure steadily.
Don’t raise the cloth or gauze to check on the wound, because that could cause the wound to start bleeding again. If blood seeps through the dressing, just put more on top and keep applying pressure.
If the cut is on your hand or arm, you can help slow the bleeding by raising it above your head.
If the cut spurts blood or if it doesn’t stop bleeding, get medical help right away.
When to Call the Doctor
Most minor cuts and abrasions don’t need a doctor's care. But call your doctor if:
- The wound is on your face.
- The edges of the cut are jagged or gape open, the cut is deep (1/4 inch or more), or you can see fat or muscle. These are signs that you may need stitches.
- You can't get all of the dirt or debris out of the wound, or the wound was caused by something very dirty or rusty.
- You have a puncture wound or a cut and haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 5 years.
- The wound is from an animal or human bite.
- The injured area feels numb.
Cover the Cut or Scrape
Once the bleeding has stopped and the wound is clean, you should cover it with a sterile bandage or gauze pad and tape.
If the cut is small and is in an area that won’t get dirty and be rubbed by your clothes, you may decide to leave it uncovered. But for most wounds, it's a good idea to cover them to help prevent infection or reopening the wound.
Change the dressing or bandage every day or more often if it gets dirty.
Antibiotic ointment can make infection less likely. Using a thin layer of antibiotic ointment before applying the bandage or gauze dressing will help keep cuts and scrapes clean and moist, and help curb scarring.
Watch for Signs of Infection
If the wound isn’t healing or you notice any of these signs of infection, call your doctor right away:
- Redness, swelling, and warmth
- Increasing pain
- Pus or drainage from the cut
- Red streaks around the wound
When the Wound Starts to Heal
Small cuts and scrapes will form a scab and heal within a few days. The scab helps protect the wound from dirt and germs while new skin grows underneath. Once a scab has formed, you may not need to use a bandage anymore.
Although a healing wound or scab will itch, it's best not to scratch or pick at scabs. The scab will fall off on its own without your help, revealing the new skin underneath.