Treating Cuts, Bruises and Other Minor Wounds

By: Paula Phillips, ANRP

Cuts, scratches and other minor wounds are an inescapable part of life, no matter what your age. From bicycle falls to mishaps with scissors, there’s just no stopping them. Understanding the different types of wounds will help you treat your child when injured and recognize when to take them to the emergency room.

A cut is a slit in the skin that has clean edges and if often caused by a sharp object like a knife, scissors or even the edge of a piece of paper. A deep cut can bleed heavily and damage muscles, tendons and nerves beneath the skin. If contaminated, it may become infected. There is also risk of scarring if the cut spreads open.

A laceration has jagged edges and is likely to involve more damage to deeper tissue than a cut. Lacerations are often caused by broken glass or sharp metal and the risks of infection and scarring are greater.

A scrape is a wound where outer layers of skin are rubbed away and inner skin layers or tissue are left exposed. Because of their large surface area, dirt and bacteria can easily contaminate scrapes. Scrapes often result from falls on pavement or carpet.

A puncture wound is a narrow, deep hole in the skin produced by a nail, tooth or other penetrating object. Although punctures generally don’t bleed heavily, this type of wound has higher risk of internal injury, tetanus or other infections.

A bruise is a discoloration of the skin that forms when a blow to the body causes blood vessels to break, leaking blood into the tissue under the skin. Minor bruises seldom need treatment. Especially painful or swollen bruises can often be treated with a cold compress or ice pack.

Most cuts, scrapes and puncture wounds are minor and can be treated at home. When treating such a wound, you should take the following steps:

  • Allow the wound to bleed freely for several seconds to help clean it out.
  • Gently cleanse the wound with mild soap and cool water. If there is dirt in the wound that does not come out with soap and water, flush with hydrogen peroxide and water—never alcohol.
  • If the wound continues to bleed or ooze, apply pressure with a clean, preferably sterile, pad. Then, raise the injured area above the heart to slow or stop the bleeding.
  • Once the bleeding has stopped, apply a small amount of antibiotic ointment to the wound and loosely cover it with a light, sterile adhesive dressing.
  • Change the dressing on the wound daily until a firm scab forms. Once the scab forms, you can leave the wound open in the air. It’s important to remind your child to never pick at scabs as they protect the wound from harmful dirt and bacteria.

There are times when cuts, bruises and other wounds may be more serious and require emergency medical treatment. You should see a doctor immediately if your children experience any of the following types of wounds:

  • Wounds that bleed heavily or do not stop bleeding after applying pressure for 15 minutes;
  • Wounds that happened as a result of a serious injury or accident, or were made by a sharp and rusty or dirty object;
  • Those that have a foreign object embedded inside;
  • A laceration in which jagged edges are spread open;
  • Wounds that are more than one-half inch long with flesh protruding from them;
  • Injuries in a location that makes healing more difficult, such as over a joint, on the face or on moist skin of the mouth, eyes, etc.; and
  • Wounds that show signs of infection, which includes increased pain, redness or swelling, discharge from the wound, fever or swollen lymph nodes; or red streaks spreading from the wound site toward the heart.

Although most minor wounds can be treated at home, it’s important to contact your physician if you have concerns about your child’s injury.