We may think a cut or scrape is no big deal, but any time the skin gets broken, there’s a risk of infection. So it helps to understand how to care for cuts and scrapes at home, and know when we need to see a doctor.
Does my cut need stitches?
If your cut does not go all the way through the skin, it does not need stitches . If your cut is wide, jagged, or does go all the way through the skin, you will most likely need stitches. If you are unsure if your cut needs stitches, consult your doctor.
These guidelines can help you determine whether or not stitches are needed:
- Cuts that go all of the way through the skin may benefit from stitches.
- Any cut that is gaping open with visible dark red muscle or yellowish fat should probably be closed, even if it is small.
- Any cut that is gaping and is more than ½ inch long should probably be closed. Cuts smaller than this may not require closure, but if they are gaping, then it is best to have them checked out.
- Small cuts that are not gaping may not require actual stitches, but may still benefit from steri strips.
- If your child has a cut that is deep, gaping, or in a cosmetically sensitive area, contact your doctor to determine if stitches are needed.
How do I take care of a cut or scrape?
To take care of your cut or scrape, follow these basic first aid guidelines:
- Stop the bleeding. If the cut or scrape is bleeding, press a clean cloth or bandage firmly on the area for 20 minutes. You can also reduce the bleeding by holding the cut above the level of your heart. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after 20 minutes, contact the doctor.
- Clean the cut or scrape. Wash it well with soap and water. If there is dirt, glass, or some object in your cut that you can’t get out after you wash it, contact the doctor.
- Put a thin layer of antibiotic ointment on the cut or scrape.
- Cover the cut or scrape with a bandage or gauze. Keep the bandage clean and dry. Change the bandage 1 to 2 times every day until your cut or scrape heals.
- Watch for signs that your cut or scrape is infected.
Most cuts and scrapes heal on their own within 7 to 10 days. As your cut or scrape heals, a scab will form. Be sure to leave the scab alone and not pick at it.
When should I call the doctor?
Call the doctor or nurse if you have any signs of an infection. Signs of an infection include:
- Redness, swelling, warmth, or increased pain around the cut or scrape.
- Pus draining from the cut or scrape.
- Red streaks on the skin around the cut or scrape.
Deep cuts called “puncture wounds” have a higher risk of getting infected. A puncture wound is a type of cut that is made when a sharp object goes through the skin and into the tissue underneath.
Will I need a tetanus shot?
Maybe. It depends on how old you are and when your last tetanus shot was. Tetanus is a serious infection that can cause muscle stiffness and spasms. It is caused by bacteria (germs) that live in the dirt. Most children get a tetanus vaccine as part of their routine check-ups. Vaccines are treatments (usually shots) that can prevent certain serious or deadly infections. Many adults also get a tetanus vaccine as part of their routine check-ups. If your skin is cut, and especially if the cut is dirty or deep, ask your doctor or nurse if you need a tetanus shot.
My child’s cut is on his face. Should I be concerned about scarring from the stitches?
Facial cuts in children usually heal remarkably well and with very little scarring. Pediatric plastic surgeons recommend that most facial cuts be repaired using simple interrupted sutures. The suture size and needle type are specifically designed for the delicate skin of the face.