We are fast approaching summer (yay!), which means our kids will be out of school, hopefully off screens and outside playing and exploring. In the warmer months, I often see an increase in cuts and scrapes, and wanted to give parents a few reminders on how to treat these common injuries. Additionally, it’s good to know when a cut or scrape might need medical attention. Treating a cut or a scrape correctly will hopefully help prevent infection and/or scarring.
Fun fact about skin: It’s the body’s biggest organ so taking care of cuts and scrapes is really important!
Almost all bleeding from small cuts or scrapes can be stopped by applying direct pressure with clean gauze or cloth for 5 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to check too soon, which can make it take longer for the bleeding to stop.
Once the bleeding has stopped, clean the wound gently with warm water and soap until you clear all of dirt or debris. This should take a few minutes to make sure it’s clean. I know with smaller kids, sitting still while Mom or Dad cleans a cut can prove difficult. If you have a wiggly child, try putting them in the bath, which can offer enough distraction while you clean up the cut. Cleaning the skin is important to reduce the risk of infection.
After you’ve thoroughly cleaned the cut or scrape, apply an antibacterial ointment to keep it moist and cover with a bandage until it heals or scabs, typically a few days. Make sure to switch the bandage every day and reapply ointment.
Sometimes an injury can cause a wound that requires stitches. Knowing what that looks like and responding in a timely manner is important. A few things to look for:
As your child’s cut heals, it’s common for it to be swollen, red in appearance and painful. This is pretty typical and a sign of the body’s immune system kicking in to protect the wound from infection. It’s important to keep the wound clean and dry to help the healing process.
As it heals, a scab is likely to form. As tough as it might be for curious kids, don’t let them pick the scab. It’s protecting the skin underneath and helping it to heal by forming new tissue. Picking the scab will delay healing and may increase the likelihood of scarring. The scab will eventually dry up and fall off. When the scab has fallen off, sometimes a scar will be left.
Despite cleaning and antibacterial ointment, some cuts and scrapes can get infected. The appearance and symptoms of an infected cut include:
If your child has any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your pediatrician for treatment.
Even though human skin is remarkable in its ability to heal, sometimes a cut can lead to scarring. Here are a few ways to prevent or minimize scarring.
Sun protection: Cover, cover, cover! Damaged skin from a cut or scrape can become permanently discolored by the sun for six months to one year after an injury. It’s best to keep any wounds covered with clothing or a bandage as much as possible and avoid using sunscreen during initial healing. However, after about two weeks, it’s okay to use sunscreen on areas that are difficult to cover to minimize darkening of the scar, called “hyperpigmentation.”
Scar massage: Scars may soften and flatten more quickly when they are massaged. To do this, use your fingers to apply moderate pressure and massage the scar in circles. Your pediatrician can show you how to do this or if you need reinforcement, YouTube has good tutorials.
Silicone sheets or gels: Silicone sheets or gels may help soften, flatten and improve the coloration of a scar if used for at least 12 hours a day. You can find these at pharmacies or online. Ask your pediatrician if they recommend a certain kind for your child’s cut.
Cuts and scrapes are common in kids. Preparing a basic first aid kit can be a fun project for families to prepare for these situations. Older children can even carry a basic kit in their sports bag or a backpack when hiking so they can feel prepared if they get hurt. A few things I suggest for the tool kit include:
The good news about cuts and scrapes is that young bodies are adept at healing relatively quickly. Help your kids take care of their cuts and scrapes to ensure proper healing and as always, if you have any questions about a cut or any other issue, contact your child’s pediatrician. We are always here for you.