Guide Health: Don’t let your minor cuts and scrapes get major

Know the difference between an at-home bandage and a trip to the doctor

Your skin protects your body from the outside world while also regulating your temperature, so any damage to your skin can result in damage to underlying structures.

Everyone has had a cut or a scrape at one time or other. These usually only need to be covered with a self-adhesive bandage.

For larger or more serious wounds, you need to get medical attention. Deep wounds and large wounds may need stitches. Wounds that are especially dirty or that still contain whatever has caused them, may need debridement, that is, the removal of the foreign material. You may need a tetanus shot for puncture wounds such as a nail puncture, or animal or human bites.

If a wound is bleeding profusely or if underlying tissues are exposed, medical attention is a must. Additionally, if you have immune system problems, then any wound could be serious.

Minor cuts and scrapes include contusions (i.e. bruises), abrasions (i.e. scrapes), and minor lacerations or incisions. Contusions or bruises do not break the skin, but are caused by a fall or blow which causes the bleeding beneath the skin that produces the “black and blue” colouring. Abrasions or scrapes are the result of your skin being rubbed against a hard surface, for example a knee scraped by a fall from a bicycle. There may be some bleeding, and most scrapes are very painful. Incisions are clean cuts with something like a kitchen knife, while a laceration is a more jagged tear in the skin, but both can bleed and be painful.

Before you treat any minor wound, make sure you wash your hands well because you don’t want to contaminate the wound with any debris that might be on your hands. Ideally, all minor wounds should be cleaned. Soap and water will do the trick. Flushing the wound with warm water is also effective and may remove any foreign material from the wound.

At one time alcohol was recommended, but it stings and is able to cause tissue damage at the wound site. Now it’s best avoided.

If the wound is bleeding, you want to apply pressure to help stop it. Then, if bleeding doesn’t stop, have the wound checked.

The use of antibiotic creams and ointments is subject to more controversy because if you’ve cleaned the wound and covered it, then you shouldn’t need the antibiotic. If you do choose to use these products, remember that whatever creams and ointments you apply to a minor wound will eventually need to be removed, which can be difficult and painful.

Rather than automatically applying these topical products, keep tabs on the wound and watch for any signs of infection. Remember the acronym SHARP, that is Swelling, Heat or warmth, Aches or pains, Redness, and Pus. If you think the wound might be infected, have it checked because a prescription antibiotic might be needed.

Applying a clean bandage to the minor wound will protect the damaged area from further damage or contamination. Self-adhesive band-ages are ideal for smaller wounds and they are available with easy-to-remove adhesive which makes removing them less painful.

For larger wounds you may need a dressing held in place by adhesive tape, but make sure you choose a dressing large enough to cover the complete wound. Butterfly closures are ideal for pulling the two sides of a laceration together, and specially shaped self-adhesive bandages are available for finger tips, knuckles, and even toes.

Because strands of gauze can be caught in a wound, opt for an easy-to-remove dressing pad.

Regardless of the dressing you choose, remember to not touch it, because you want the dressing to remain sterile until it reaches the wound.

Blisters on your feet can be problematic, but film dressings like Opsite can protect your skin and reduce blisters. In winter, cracks in dry skin around fingernails can develop and often dressings, along with moisturizers, are used to alleviate these. However, cyanoacrylate dressings are more effective, and because cyanoacrylate is contained in super glue products, applying one of these glues to these wounds is an option, but make sure you let the glue dry before you touch anything.

Regardless of how minor you may believe a wound to be, it is still a wound and appropriate treatment is needed to keep it minor. And remember, if you have any risk factors for poor healing, for example diabetes, immune system conditions or bleeding problems, appropriate treatment is even more important.

About the author

Contributor

Marie Berry is a lawyer/pharmacist interested in health and education.

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