Caring for Common Cuts and Scrapes

Whether it’s climbing trees or the jungle gym, testing out a new bike or playing catch at the park – some tumbles and falls, bruises, cuts and scrapes are an inevitable part of outdoor fun. In this blog post, Palo Alto Medical Foundation Pediatrician Michaella Y. Okihara, M.D., answers parents’ commonly asked questions on how to soothe and care for these minor wounds – beyond a kiss and a cuddle – and to recognize when you should head to the doctor.
What’s the best way to care for my child’s cuts and scrapes?
For minor cuts or scrapes, the first thing to do is to clean the wounded area gently with water and a clean washcloth. Don’t scrub too hard as this can irritate the wound. Rinsing the area thoroughly under running water until it is clean is the best, and least painful, approach. If the wound is dirty, you can use a mild soap to get the dirt off. Keep in mind that soap in the wound can also be irritating. Check the injury every day and watch for signs of infection – for example, if the area is red, swollen, there is any pus and your child has a fever.
If the wound is bleeding, apply gentle, firm pressure to the area with some clean gauze until the bleeding stops. If the wound does not stop bleeding, seek medical attention.
Should I cover my child’s wound?
To promote healing it’s best to leave the wound uncovered once you have cleaned it. If the wounded area is very exposed or will rub on clothing and feels uncomfortable, you can apply some antibiotic ointment and cover it with a Band-Aid. Check the wound and change the Band-Aid daily.
Once the wound is dry, stop using any covering – unless it’s to prevent your child from picking the scab!
When should I take my child to the doctor?
If your child’s wound is very dirty – and you are having difficulty cleaning it properly – or it is very deep, you should head to the doctor.
If your child has a deep cut or the edges of the cut are separated, it is possible that it will need stitches or glue – don’t delay – go the doctor right away. The risk of infection increases dramatically after a wound has been open for more than six to eight hours, so closing the injury early is best.
You should also see the doctor for any deep cut or laceration on your child’s face.
If your child has a puncture wound (for example, has stepped on a nail), check with your doctor to make sure your child’s Tetanus immunization status is current.
How should I care for bruises, strains and sprains?
A big bruise blooming in all colors under the sun can look a lot worse than it is. Generally, most bruises are not serious and the inflammation can be soothed with cool compresses. If the bruise is very tender, abnormally large and makes it hard for your child to walk or move, have it checked out.
To ease the discomfort of minor strains, sprains or twists, use R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
How can I tell whether my child has broken a bone?
If your child has a fracture there will be lots of swelling around the injured area and it will be very painful to touch. The injury and pain will also impair your child’s movement. For example, if he or she can’t walk without a lot of pain after hurting an ankle or a leg, check with your child’s doctor to see if an X-ray is recommended.
What’s good to have on hand to take care of my child’s minor injuries?
Clean, running water is your best friend for cleaning wounds and scrapes but it’s always good to have a first aid kit at home and in the car. Keep your kit stocked with:
  • Bandages and Band-Aids in a variety of sizes
  • Gauze
  • Ace bandage (for compression and to stem bleeding)
  • Iodine solution (for deeper cleaning, if you have no access to water)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Tweezers and scissors

Michaella Okihara, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Mountain View Center.


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