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Cuts and Scratches: Brief Version

What are cuts and scratches?

Most cuts are not very deep. Cuts that need stitches are deep or leave the skin edges separated. Also, deep cuts that are longer than 1/2 inch (1/4 inch if on the face) need to be closed by a doctor.

How can I take care of my child?

Apply direct pressure for 10 minutes to stop any bleeding. Wash the wound with soap and water for 5 minutes. Apply an antibiotic ointment. Cover it with a Band-Aid or gauze. Wash the wound and change the Band-Aid every day. Instead of a Band-Aid, you can use a liquid skin bandage to seal the cut. These are available at your local pharmacy. Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) as needed to help the pain.

Don't use alcohol on open wounds. It will sting and damage normal tissue.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • Bleeding doesn't stop after you have applied pressure directly to the area of the cut for 10 minutes.
  • The skin is split open and might need stitches.
  • There is any dirt in the wound that you can't get out.
  • The cut looks infected (red streaks, draining pus, redness).

Note: Deep cuts must be closed by a doctor within 12 hours of the time of injury. They are much less likely to get infected if they are closed within 2 hours.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • Your child hasn't had a tetanus booster in more than 10 years (5 years if the cut is dirty).
  • The wound doesn't heal by 10 days.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2016-06-01
Last reviewed: 2018-07-13
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2018 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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