Cuts and Scrapes
Your skin is your body's largest organ and plays a big role in keeping you healthy. It helps to regulate your body temperature and acts as a barrier to keep body fluids in and bacteria out. The skin also acts as a first-alert system to the world around you by warning of potential problems when you feel heat or pain.
Cuts and scrapes happen when your skin is accidentally broken or worn away. This can be the result of a fall, banging against a hard object, or being cut by something sharp.
We all get cuts sometimes, but some people are more prone to these injuries than others. Children, for instance, almost always have some sort of minor skin damage just from playing. Others more likely to get cuts and scrapes include older people and people who have delicate skin because of certain illnesses or medications.
Symptoms and Complications
How can you tell if your cut or scrape is healing properly? If you keep the area clean, the chance of infection is low. Some signs of infection to watch for include:
- discharge or pus coming from the cut or scrape
- increased pain
- foul odour coming from the cut
- redness, swelling, or warmth in the affected area
If any of these signs appear, your injury needs a doctor's attention. To stop the infection from spreading, treatment most often consists of an antibiotic cream or ointment (such as mupirocin*, bacitracin, or fusidic acid) or, in more severe cases, a prescription for oral antibiotics.
Certain people need to take special care if they get cuts or scrapes because their injuries won't heal easily. These include people who:
- have weakened immune systems (e.g., from chemotherapy medications used to treat cancer)
- take medications that make the skin dry and fragile (e.g., prednisone)
- take medications that decrease blood clotting (e.g., warfarin)
- have diabetes
- are elderly, as the skin gets thinner with age and healing happens more slowly
If you are in any high-risk category, find out what special precautions you should take to avoid injury and what to do if you injure yourself.
Treatment and Prevention
How are cuts treated?
The most important thing to remember when dealing with a cut or open wound is to keep it clean. To prevent infection, make sure that anything that touches the scrape or cut is as clean as possible. This is not always easy, as bacteria are on almost everything in our environment. However, most medical supplies are sterilized and free of bacteria that may cause infection.
The first step in treating a cut is to control or stop the bleeding by applying a clean dressing or gauze to the cut with firm and even pressure that is not too hard – you don't want to cut off the circulation. Resist the temptation to lift the gauze and check to see if the blood has stopped, as you might disturb the clotting process. If there's a lot of blood and it's coming through the padding you're using, don't remove the padding. Instead, cover it with another cloth or pad and continue to apply pressure - this allows clotting to continue undisturbed. If the bleeding doesn't stop within 10 minutes, keep applying pressure and get the cut checked by a doctor.
The sooner you can cover the wound and slow down the blood flow, the easier the injury will be to deal with. Remember, many minor cuts – especially to the head and face – bleed a lot more than you might expect, since the blood vessels are denser in these areas of the body than in most others. If you've been able to control the blood flow, check the cut to see if it needs medical attention.
Cuts that require medical attention include the following signs:
- They are deep (doctors usually are more concerned with how deep a cut is rather than how long it is, because of the concern that deeper tissues like blood vessels, nerves, or tendons may be damaged)
- They expose any muscle tissue (red) or fat tissue (yellowish)
- They stay open if you let go of the sides of the cut
- They are on a joint or in an area where healing might be difficult (stitching might be needed to keep it closed)
- They remain visibly dirty after being cleaned.
- They continue to bleed longer than 10 minutes.