First Aid

First Aid for Cuts and Scrapes

If an injury has excessive bleeding or pain, see a physician immediately. For minor cuts and scrapes, follow these four steps:

  1. Wash up! If you're the one who will be administering the treatment, always wash your hands with soap and water first, says Christy Zacchero, a registered nurse in Pittsburgh. The National Safety Council's First Aid Institute recommends wearing disposable medical exam gloves, if available, to avoid spreading germs when cleaning or treating a wound.
  2. Keep it clean. For a skinned knee or other cuts and scrapes, wash the injury with a mild soap and lukewarm water. Next, irrigate the wound by letting water from a faucet run over it. Any small objects that weren't dislodged by irrigation can be removed with sterile tweezers. A dirty abrasion or other wound that isn't properly cleaned will leave a scar or "tattoo" on the skin
  3. Keep it covered. "Moms love to blow on a scrape once it's been cleaned," says Zacchero. Unfortunately, this can put germs onto a clean wound. To keep germs out, use an antibiotic ointment on the wound, then cover with a sterile adhesive strip. "Kids like the idea of wearing a bandage, and it will keep them from picking at it," she says. Cuts and scrapes on areas like the hands and feet should also be kept covered, says Zacchero. Your hands can come into contact with germs while you're eating, cleaning or doing the dishes. A scrape on your leg may rub on your pants, so cover that, too. However, let cuts dry at night by taking the bandage off. As a rule of thumb, if the injury is larger than a 1 or 2 centimeters (about a half inch), see a physician, says Dr. Charles Nozicka, medical director of pediatric services at St. Alexis Hospital in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
  4. Get professional help. Any wound, large or small, can become infected. Once an infection begins, damage can be extensive. Most infected wounds swell and become red. They may give a sensation of warmth and develop a throbbing pain and pus discharge. To avoid an infection, learn how to properly clean a wound and visit a physician immediately after an injury. High-risk wounds, such as those with embedded foreign material (like gravel), animal and human bites, puncture wounds, and ragged wounds, should always receive medical attention. The National Safety Council's First Aid Institute recommends that anyone who has not had a tetanus vaccination within 10 years (5 years in the case of a very dirty wound), should obtain a tetanus immunization shot within 72 hours.

Your age may affect your injury.

  • Children usually get cuts and scrapes from sports, playing at a playground or from just tripping or falling. Adults frequently get minor injuries from scissors or knives; work activities like lifting, moving or bumping into objects; or cooking.
  • "Children definitely heal faster than adults," says Nozicka. Older adults or people with diabetes, vascular or circulatory problems heal more slowly. If a person has these conditions, watch their injury more closely and see a doctor if the condition worsens.

Face the facts

  • "Any injury close to the eyes is a big deal," says Zacchero. Scratches on the face or in or near the eye should be evaluated by a physician to minimize infection and scarring. "It's better to be safe than sorry," she says.
  • There is often significant pain involved with an eye scratch, says Nozicka. However, a serious eye injury can occur with minimal pain. To reduce the likelihood of an eye injury from flying debris, always use protective eyewear when working with tools, such as a hammer or high-speed equipment. "A minor eye injury can easily become serious if left untreated," Nozicka stresses.

Permission to reprint granted by the National Safety Council, a membership organization dedicated to protecting life and promoting health.

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