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Cut Care: Protecting Cuts From Infection and Scarring

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Jan 17, 2018

Oh no! Your child got a scrape on the knee. What’s the best thing to do next? Flush it with hydrogen peroxide? Wrap it tightly? Slather it with butter?

Cuts and scrapes are subject to a lot of myths and bad advice. Some of these “old wives’ tales” - like putting butter on burns and scrapes - can actually introduce bacteria and do more harm than good.

Parents need the facts about proper wound care. Here’s a rundown on the best ways to handle the cuts and scrapes every child encounters.


STEP 1: Wash

Small scrapes and cuts usually don’t require a trip to the doctor. Of course, what happens in the first few minutes after the injury can determine what happens thereafter. To prevent infection, start with hand washing - yours and your child’s - regardless of the injury location. Avoid getting soap directly in the injury, if it’s on the hands.

STEP 2: Pressure and elevation

A minor injury will stop bleeding on its own within a few minutes. To encourage this process, apply a clean bandage or cloth and elevate the injury about the heart.

STEP 3: Check and clean

When the bleeding has subsided, check the injury and determine whether there is debris in it, like splinters or dirt. Use clean, warm water to rinse out debris or use tweezers. Apply pressure and elevate again if bleeding returns.

STEP 4: Apply proper treatments

When the wound is clean, apply only petroleum jelly or antibiotic ointment. Don’t use iodine or hydrogen peroxide, which are irritants. Ice packs or heating pads shouldn’t be necessary for a minor wound.

STEP 5: Cover and monitor

Cover the wound with a bandage - not too tightly - and change it regularly, at least a couple times a day. Check it often for signs of infection, which would require a trip to the doctor. Signs of infection are:

  • Increased redness
  • Draining pus
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Pain
  • Fever

If the wound was deep or dirty, it’s a good idea to get a tetanus shot.

Healing and Preventing Scars

After a cut or scrape, parents often wonder what they can do to prevent scarring. The American Academy of Dermatology shares these tips for ongoing scar prevention after a minor injury:

Keep it moist. After the initial application of petroleum jelly or antibiotic, re-apply it and add a clean bandage, often.

Don’t scratch. Remind kids that they shouldn’t scratch or pick at an injury, even if it’s itchy. This can promote scarring.

Ask an expert. Consult with a doctor right away if a cut or scrape doesn’t seem to be healing properly.

Use sunscreen. In the weeks and months following an injury, be sure to use sunscreen to protect it. Sunscreen prevents red or brown discoloration during healing.Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.

Be patient. Most small injuries heal without scarring. When there are scars, they usually fade completely over time. A little patience goes a long way with cuts, scrapes, and scars.

More questions about cut care? Reach out to the experts at Johnson Memorial Pediatric Specialists.