Skin Injury

Is this your symptom?

  • Injuries to the skin anywhere on the body
  • Includes cuts, scratches, scrapes, bruises and swelling

Types of Skin Injury

  • Cuts, lacerations, gashes and tears. These are wounds that go through the skin to the fat tissue. Caused by a sharp object.
  • Scrapes, abrasions, scratches and floor burns. These are surface wounds that don't go all the way through the skin. Scrapes are common on the knees, elbows and palms.
  • Bruises. These are bleeding into the skin from damaged blood vessels. Caused by a blunt object or any injury, such as a sprain. They can occur without a cut or scrape.

When Sutures (Stitches) are Needed for Cuts

  • Any cut that is split open or gaping needs sutures. Paper sutures or staples can sometimes be used.
  • Cuts longer than ½ inch (12 mm) usually need sutures.
  • On the face, cuts longer than ¼ inch (6 mm) usually need to be seen. They often need closure with sutures or skin glue to avoid scarring.
  • Any open wound that may need sutures should be seen as soon as possible. Ideally, they should be checked and closed within 6 hours. Reason: to prevent wound infections. There is no cut-off, however, for treating open wounds.
  • Do not delay getting the wound cleaned and treated.

Cuts Versus Scratches: Helping You Decide

  • The skin is about ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick.
  • A cut (laceration) goes through the skin.
  • A scratch or scrape (wide scratch) doesn't go through the skin.
  • Cuts that gape open at rest or with movement (such as cuts over a joint, like the knee) need stitches to help them start to heal and prevent scarring.
  • Scrapes and scratches never need stitches, no matter how long they are. So this distinction is important.

When to Call for Skin Injury

Call 911 Now

  • Major bleeding that can't be stopped
  • Deep cut to chest, stomach, head, neck or genital area (such as with a knife)
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Severe pain
  • Dirt in the wound is not gone after 15 minutes of scrubbing (or unable to be cleaned)
  • Skin loss from bad scrape goes very deep
  • Loss of feeling or movement in the area of the injury or further down the limb if an arm or a leg
  • Bad scrape covers large area
  • A large amount of swelling and pain near the injury that happens right away
  • Cut or scrape and no past tetanus shots
  • You think you have a serious injury
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Very large bruise after a minor injury (2 inches or wider, 5 cm or wider)
  • Some bruises appear without any known injury
  • Cut or scrape looks infected (redness, red streak or pus)
  • Dirty cut or hard to clean and no tetanus shot for more than 5 years
  • Clean cut and no tetanus shot in more than 10 years
  • Dirty wound or a puncture wound and you have a weak immune system. Examples are: sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids, diabetes, kidney problems.
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • Doesn't heal by 10 days
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Minor cut, scrape or bruise (minor bleeding that stops)

Care Advice for Minor Cut, Scrape or Bruise

  1. Cuts, Scratches and Scrapes - Treatment:
    • Use direct pressure to stop any bleeding. Do this for 10 minutes without taking the pressure off or until the bleeding stops.
    • Wash the wound with soap and water for 5 minutes. Try to rinse the cut under running water.
    • Caution: never soak a wound that might need sutures (stitches). Reason: it may become more swollen and harder to close.
    • Gently scrub out any dirt with a clean washcloth.
    • Dry with a clean towel. Do not use cotton balls or tissue. They will stick to the wound.
    • Use an antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin). No prescription is needed. Then, cover it with a bandage (such as Band-Aid). Keep dry and change the dressing daily.
  2. Liquid Skin Bandage for Minor Cuts and Scrapes:
    • Liquid skin bandage seals wounds with a plastic coating. It lasts up to 1 week.
    • Liquid skin bandage has several benefits compared to other bandages. Liquid bandage only needs to be put on once. It seals the wound and may promote faster healing and lower infection rates. Also, it's waterproof.
    • Use for any small break in the skin. Examples are paper cuts, hangnails and cracks on the fingers or toes.
    • Wash and dry the wound first. Then, put on the liquid skin. It comes with a brush or swab. It dries in less than a minute.
    • You can get this product at a drugstore. There are many brands of liquid bandage. No prescription is needed.
  3. Bruises - Treatment:
    • Use a cold pack or ice bag wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the bruise once for 20 minutes. This will help stop the bleeding.
    • Caution: avoid frostbite by wrapping the ice pack in a cloth. Do not put ice directly onto the skin.
    • After 48 hours, use a warm wet wash cloth. Do this for 10 minutes 3 times per day. This helps to disperse the blood which collected and created the bruise.
  4. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, take an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil). Ibuprofen works well for this type of pain.
    • Use as needed, but do not take more than the maximum recommended dosage as listed on the package.
    • If you are not sure what to take, ask a pharmacist.
  5. Tetanus Shot:
    • A tetanus shot booster may be needed for cuts and other open wounds.
    • Check your vaccine records to see when you got the last one.
    • For Dirty Cuts and Scrapes. If last tetanus shot was given more than 5 years ago, need a booster.
    • For Clean Cuts. If last tetanus shot was given more than 10 years ago, need a booster.
    • See your doctor for a booster during regular office hours or if you are not sure whether a shot is needed. It's safe to get one within 3 days or less.
  6. What to Expect:
    • Small cuts and scrapes heal up in less than a week.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Bleeding does not stop after using direct pressure to the cut
    • Starts to look infected (pus, redness, swelling, increasing pain)
    • Doesn't heal by 10 days
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.


Last Reviewed: 10/11/2023 1:00:56 AM
Last Updated: 4/13/2023 1:00:46 AM

Copyright 2023 Schmitt Decision Logic, LLC

<strong>Bruise from Coumadin</strong> <p>This older woman did not recall hurting her hand. She takes the blood thinner Coumadin. Blood thinners help prevent blood clots, but they can also increase bleeding and bruising.</p><p>The picture shows a large amount of bruising of the left hand. There is no broken bone.</p>
Bruise from Coumadin

This older woman did not recall hurting her hand. She takes the blood thinner Coumadin. Blood thinners help prevent blood clots, but they can also increase bleeding and bruising.

The picture shows a large amount of bruising of the left hand. There is no broken bone.

<strong>Abrasion on Shoulder</strong> <p>This person fell and scraped his shoulder on the sidewalk. The picture shows a shallow scrape (abrasion) with minor bleeding.</p><p><em>First Aid Care Advice for Minor Scrape:</em></p><ul><li>Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.</li><li>Wash the scrape with soap and water.</li><li>Gently scrub out any dirt with a washcloth.</li><li>Apply an antibiotic ointment, covered by a gauze dressing. Change daily.</li><li>Another option is to use a Liquid Skin Bandage that only needs to be applied once. Avoid ointments with this.</li></ul>
Abrasion on Shoulder

This person fell and scraped his shoulder on the sidewalk. The picture shows a shallow scrape (abrasion) with minor bleeding.

First Aid Care Advice for Minor Scrape:

  • Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.
  • Wash the scrape with soap and water.
  • Gently scrub out any dirt with a washcloth.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment, covered by a gauze dressing. Change daily.
  • Another option is to use a Liquid Skin Bandage that only needs to be applied once. Avoid ointments with this.
<strong>Bruise on Thigh (1 Day Old)</strong> <p>This bruise is one day old.</p><p>Bruising occurs when the blood vessels burst and cause blood to collect in the tissue.</p>
Bruise on Thigh (1 Day Old)

This bruise is one day old.

Bruising occurs when the blood vessels burst and cause blood to collect in the tissue.

<strong>Abrasion on Elbow</strong> <p>This picture shows a shallow scrape on the left elbow. </p><p><em>First Aid Care Advice for Minor Scrape:</em></p><ul><li>Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.</li><li>Wash the area with soap and water.</li><li>Gently scrub out any dirt with a washcloth.</li><li>Apply an antibiotic ointment, covered by an adhesive bandage or dressing. Change daily.</li><li>Another option is to use a Liquid Skin Bandage that only needs to be applied once. Avoid ointments with this.</li></ul>
Abrasion on Elbow

This picture shows a shallow scrape on the left elbow.

First Aid Care Advice for Minor Scrape:

  • Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.
  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Gently scrub out any dirt with a washcloth.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment, covered by an adhesive bandage or dressing. Change daily.
  • Another option is to use a Liquid Skin Bandage that only needs to be applied once. Avoid ointments with this.
<strong>Laceration - Scalp</strong> <p>This scalp cut (laceration) is gaping open. It will require closure with sutures or medical staples. </p><p><em>First Aid Care Advice:</em></p><ul><li>Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.</li><li>Wash the cut with soap and water.</li><li>Seek treatment.</li></ul>
Laceration - Scalp

This scalp cut (laceration) is gaping open. It will require closure with sutures or medical staples.

First Aid Care Advice:

  • Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes to stop any bleeding.
  • Wash the cut with soap and water.
  • Seek treatment.
<strong>Puncture Wound - BB Gun</strong> <p>This photo shows a puncture wound from a BB gun in the upper arm. Note the small hole in the arm where the BB struck and entered the skin.</p>
Puncture Wound - BB Gun

This photo shows a puncture wound from a BB gun in the upper arm. Note the small hole in the arm where the BB struck and entered the skin.

<strong>Scratches from a Cat</strong> <p>The photo shows 3-4 parallel scratches on the wrist caused by a cat.</p><p><em>First Aid Care Advice:</em></p><ul><li>Wash the scratches with soap and water.</li><li>Apply an antibiotic ointment twice daily.</li><li>Watch closely for signs of infection, especially the first 1-3 days. Signs of infection include fever, redness or tenderness or pus at the scratch site.</li></ul>
Scratches from a Cat

The photo shows 3-4 parallel scratches on the wrist caused by a cat.

First Aid Care Advice:

  • Wash the scratches with soap and water.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment twice daily.
  • Watch closely for signs of infection, especially the first 1-3 days. Signs of infection include fever, redness or tenderness or pus at the scratch site.

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