Welcome to the first installment of First Aid Friday, a weekly series of first aid tips and tricks.

This week we’re talking about cuts and scrapes.

Generally speaking, most cuts and scrapes are minor and don’t require advanced first aid or the assistance of a medical professional.  The thing to be aware of with minor wounds is to get them clean and keep them that way.

Treatment of minor cuts or scrapes is as follows:

  1. Wash the wound out with clean water.  This can be done in a sink or by pouring clean water over the wound.  The idea is to get any dirt or debris out of the wound.  If running water is not available, you can use a clean plastic bag with one corner cut off in order to squirt a stream of water in order to help dislodge dirt.  It is no longer recommended to use hydrogen peroxide and iodine when cleaning a wound, since they can actually cause damage to healthy tissue inside the wound.  If you think that you need to use something more than water, contact your family doctor for advice.
  2. Stop the bleeding.  This usually happens on it’s own, especially with minor cuts and scrapes.  For ones that do not stop on their own, or for ones that are dripping, cover them with a clean dressing (gauze pads work well) and apply direct pressure for 15-20 minutes.  You may also position the wounded area above the level of the heart in order to help slow and stop the bleeding.  If the first dressing soaks through, cover that one with a second clean dressing (don’t remove the first one!  That might dislodge any partially formed clot and renew bleeding).  If the bleeding continues more than 30 minutes without signs of stopping, continue applying direct pressure and consider seeking medical help.
  3. Apply antibiotic ointment.  Brand names include Neosporin or Polysporin, but any antibiotic ointment will suffice.  Don’t apply the antibiotic directly from the tube, as that will contaminate it.  Instead, squeeze an amount of the ointment onto a cotton swab and use that to apply it to the wound.  This has the added benefit of allowing you to cover the wound evenly.  Antibiotic ointment has the dual benefit of preventing infection as well as giving the body a better environment in which to heal.  Be aware that some ingredients in antibiotic ointments can cause irritation.  If that happens, clean the wound to remove any remaining ointment and stop using it.
  4. Cover the wound. Use a clean bandage that is large enough to cover the wound.  This will help keep it clean and will help keep it from being irritated, allowing healing to occur.  Change the bandage every day, or when it gets wet.  Once the wound has healed enough to prevent infection on it’s own (i.e. when it forms a good scab), you can leave the wound uncovered.  Leaving it open to air at this point will speed healing.

Seek medical help if the wound is 1/4 inches in depth, if the edges are jagged, if there is protruding muscle or fat, or if the wound is gaping  open.  These situations typically require stitches in order to close the wound, and they should be closed by medical professionals right away.  Getting these wounds seen soon will lessen the chance of infection. You should also see a doctor if the cut or puncture is deep and you have not had a tetanus shot in 5 years or more.

Other warning signs that you need to see a doctor right away:

  • Blood spurts out of the wound
  • The wound keeps bleeding after 20-30 minutes of firm direct pressure
  • A foul odor comes from the wound (possible infection)
  • A thick, greyish discharge comes from the wound (probable infection)
  • The wound becomes tender or inflamed
  • Red streaks form near the wound
  • You start running a fever over 100 degrees F

Mayo Clinic: First aid: Cuts and Scrapes
Family Doctor.org First Aid: Cuts, Scrapes, And Stitches