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Treating cuts and grazes

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Most cuts and grazes are minor and can be easily treated at home. However, if your injury is more severe, you may need to receive treatment in hospital.

Treating minor cuts and grazes

For most cuts and grazes, cleaning them thoroughly and covering them with a plaster or dressing is all that is needed.

Stopping the bleeding

If your cut or graze is bleeding heavily, or is on a particularly delicate area of your body, such as the palm of your hand, you should stop the bleeding before applying any kind of dressing.

Apply pressure to the area using a bandage or a towel. If the cut is to your hand or arm, raise it above your head. If the injury is to a lower limb, lie down and raise the affected area above the level of your heart so the bleeding slows down and stops.

Dressing

To dress a cut or graze at home:

  • wash and dry your hands thoroughly
  • clean the wound under running tap water, but do not use antiseptic because it may damage the tissue and slow down healing
  • pat the area dry with a clean towel
  • apply a sterile, adhesive dressing, such as a plaster

Keep the dressing clean by changing it as often as necessary and keep the wound dry by using waterproof dressings, which allow light wetting (showering).

Painkillers

The wound should heal by itself in a few days. If the wound is painful, you can take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. However, you should not take ibuprofen if you have certain conditions, such as a stomach ulcer or asthma, and children under the age of 16 should not take aspirin. When taking medication, always check the packaging for recommendations regarding use and dose.

If you are unsure how serious your injury is, or if it has not healed after a few days, see your GP. Always seek medical advice if:

  • your injury does not stop bleeding or is on a joint crease (go straight to an accident and emergency department if this is the case)
  • your injury is very large or very deep
  • your injury was caused by a bite
  • there is something in your cut or graze, such as grit

Treating severe cuts and grazes

If you have a cut that is too severe to treat at home, go to your local NHS walk-in centre or accident and emergency (A&E) department. Go straight to A&E if the cut is to an artery, or if the bleeding will not stop.

At the hospital, a healthcare professional will examine your cut to determine whether or not there is any risk of infection. Factors that make an injury more prone to infection include jagged wound edges and any material inside the cut. If there was glass inside your cut, you may need an X-ray to ensure it has been removed.

If there is no risk of infection

If there is no risk of infection, the healthcare professional will clean your cut using water or a sterile saline solution before closing it. This may be done using stitches, tissue adhesive or skin-closure strips.

  • Stitches (sutures). These are usually used to close cuts that are more than 5cm long, or wounds that are particularly deep. Stitches are made from a sterile surgical thread, which is flexible and allows the wound to move. If your cut needs stitches, you will have a local anaesthetic, which means you will be awake but will lose feeling in the area of your cut.
  • Tissue adhesive (glue). This may be used to close less severe cuts that are less than 5cm long. The tissue adhesive is painted onto your skin, over your cut, while the edges are held together. The paste then dries, forming a flexible layer that keeps the cut closed.
  • Skin-closure strips. These may be used as an alternative to tissue adhesive, for cuts that are less than 5cm long, where there is a risk of infection. The strips are sticky and placed over the edges of the cut to hold them together. They are easier to remove than tissue adhesive.

Once your cut is closed, a healthcare professional may cover it with a protective dressing to ensure that your stitches, tissue adhesive or skin-closure strips stay in place.

If you have had stitches or strips, you will need to return to the hospital after a few days to have them removed.

  • stitches or strips on the head are removed after 3-5 days
  • stitches over joints are removed after 10-14 days
  • stitches or strips at other sites are removed after 7-10 days

You should never try to remove stitches yourself. They should only be removed by a healthcare professional.

Tissue adhesive comes off by itself naturally after a week or so.

To prevent tetanus (a serious bacterial infection), you may be given a tetanus booster. If the healthcare professional treating you thinks you are at risk of developing tetanus, you may be referred for specialist treatment.

If there is risk of infection, or your cut is already infected

If there is risk of infection or your cut is already infected, a healthcare professional may take a sample for analysis using a swab, before cleaning it as usual.

However, they will not yet be able to close your cut because this may trap any infection inside it, making it more likely to spread. Instead, they will pack your cut with a non-sticky dressing so that it cannot close, before covering it with a protective dressing. You may also be given antibiotics to fight the infection.

You will need to return to hospital after three to five days so your cut can be assessed to see if any infection has cleared up. If so, your cut will be closed using stitches or skin-closure strips. Tissue adhesive will not be used as it is difficult to remove if infection occurs. If your infection has not cleared up, a change of antibiotics may be required.

Skin grafts

If your graze is very severe and you have lost a lot of skin, you may need to have a skin graft. Your surgeon will take some skin from another part of your body and put it over the wound. After a while, it will heal and look normal.

Medical Review: February 17, 2010

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