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Cuts, Scratches, and Scrapes

You wipe out on your skateboard. The knife you're using slices your finger instead of the tomato. Your new puppy doesn't know how sharp his baby teeth are.

You might 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 you need to see a doctor.

What to Do

A small cut, scrape,  will usually heal well without medical care. Here's what to do if the injury isn't serious:

When to Get Help

If blood is spurting out of a cut or it won't stop bleeding, get a parent or call your doctor right away. Cover the wound with a sterile bandage or clean cloth. If the blood soaks through, don't remove the first bandage — put a new covering on top of it. Raising the injured body part above your head (or holding it up as high as you can) may help slow the bleeding.

If a wound is very long or deep, or if its edges are far apart, a doctor will need to close it with stitches. A doctor or nurse will numb your skin with an anesthetic shot (sometimes they put an anesthetic cream on the skin first to numb the area). If you hate the idea of a shot, it can help to keep in mind that getting multiple stitches feels like getting multiple shots, so you're better off feeling only one!

If you get stitches, you'll probably need to go back to the doctor in 5 to 10 days to get them taken out (some stitches dissolve on their own). To remove stitches, a doctor or nurse will snip the thread with scissors and gently pull out the threads. It feels ticklish and a little funny, but usually doesn't hurt.

Doctors sometimes close small, straight cuts on certain parts of the body with medical glue or steri-strips (thin pieces of tape). Glue and steri-strips will dissolve or fall off on their own.

Getting a cut usually means that there will be some scarring. If your cut needs to be stitched or glued but you don't see a doctor in time, your scar may be more noticeable.

Avoiding Infection

Let a parent, coach, or other adult know if you get injured. You'll especially want to tell someone if you cut yourself on something dirty or rusty, if you are bleeding, or if you get bitten or scratched (by an animal or a person!).

Bites that break the skin need medical care. Germs from animal or human saliva can get into the wound, and you will usually need antibiotics to prevent infection. Your doctor or nurse will also want to make sure the animal didn't have rabies.

Certain cuts or bites could lead to a tetanus infection if your tetanus shots are not up to date. You (or your mom or dad) will need to check your medical records to be sure that you have had a tetanus shot recently. If you haven't, you will probably need to get one when the cut is repaired.

Signs of Infection

Sometimes, a cut, scratch, or scrape starts out as no big deal, but then gets infected. A skin infection happens when there are too many germs for your body's white blood cells to handle.

If you notice any of these signs of infection, call your doctor right away:

The doctor will prescribe antibiotics to help your body fight off the infection.

Luckily, most small cuts, scratches, and abrasions will go away on their own, thanks to your body's amazing ability to heal itself. If a cut looks serious or infected, though, see a doctor.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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