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First Aid: Cuts and Scrapes

A break in the skin is an open door, inviting dirt and germs to enter your body and cause infection.

Step 1. Control bleeding

  • Apply direct pressure for at least 5 minutes.

Gloved hand holding compress over wound on forearm.

Step 2. Clean and cover

  • Wash the scrape or cut with soap and water to kill germs and remove dirt and foreign objects.

  • Apply a topical antibiotic to minor cuts and scrapes that don't need medical attention (see below).

  • Cover the wound with a clean gauze dressing to reduce the risk of infection and further injury. Keep the dressing in place with a gauze or cloth bandage.

  • Don't tie or tape the bandage too tight.

Gloved hand securing bandage on forearm with tape.

When to call the healthcare provider

Call the healthcare provider or get medical care right away if any of the following is true:

  • The wound covers a large area or is deep.

  • The injury is on the face or any other area where scarring is a concern.

  • The person needs protection against tetanus. This is a disease caused by bacteria that may enter any break in the skin and bring on a life-threatening illness called lockjaw. A tetanus booster shot (injection) may be needed if it's been more than 5 years since the last tetanus vaccine.

Call 911

Call 911 if the injured person has any of the following:

  • Uncontrollable bleeding (continue to control bleeding with direct pressure)

  • Shock symptoms:

    • The skin is pale or clammy

    • The pulse is so light or races so fast that you can't count the beats.

    • The person is confused or unable to concentrate, or stares blankly. Over time, the person may even become unconscious.

  • A detached body part:

    • Wrap all pieces of the detached part in a damp paper towel or washcloth. Put them in a plastic bag or other container first.

    • Then put the bag or container in ice or cold water to improve chances for reattachment.

    • Send the parts to the hospital along with the person.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Paula Goode RN BSN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2022
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