Cuts and grazes

Cuts and grazes are common injuries that can usually be treated at home.

Key points

  • A cut is when your skin is fully broken and a graze is when only the top layers of your skin are scraped off.
  • Stopping the bleeding, cleaning the wound well and covering it with a plaster or dressing is usually all that's needed.

 
How to stop the bleeding

To stop bleeding, apply pressure for several minutes to the area using a clean and dry absorbent material, such as a bandage, towel or handkerchief.

  • If the cut is to your hand or arm, raise it above your head to help reduce the flow of blood.
  • If the injury is to a lower limb, lie down and raise the affected area above the level of your heart.

See your doctor if:

  • the bleeding continues and doesn't stop
  • you're bleeding from an artery; blood from an artery comes out in spurts with each beat of the heart and is bright red and usually hard to control
  • the cut is quite deep.
  • the wound is very large or the injury has caused a lot of tissue damage.
  • there’s a foreign object in the cut.
  • the wound is contaminated with dirt or poo (faeces); you may need a booster injection to prevent tetanus

How to clean and dress a wound

Cuts and grazes are best treated with good skin hygiene measures such as cleaning the area with warm water and covering it with a plaster or bandage. Covering the wound prevents bugs from getting into it and causing an infection.

Steps for cleaning and dressing a wound:

  1. Wait till the wound has stopped bleeding (see how to stop bleeding above).
  2. Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.
  3. Clean the wound under running tap water. There is no need to use an antiseptic as it may damage the skin and slow healing. There is no convincing evidence that the use of antiseptics on minor skin infections has any beneficial action.
  4. Pat the area dry with a clean, non-fluffy towel or gauze swab. 
  5. Apply a sterile sticky dressing, such as a plaster.
  6. Keep the dressing clean by changing it as often as necessary. Keep the wound dry by using waterproof dressings, which will allow you to take showers.
  7. You can remove the dressing after a few days, once the wound has closed itself.

Signs of infection

Most cuts, scratches, and grazes will heal by themselves after a few days, but if you notice any of the following, see your doctor, as this means it could be infected:

  • there is pus
  • the area around the cut, scratch or graze is red, painful to touch and swollen, or red lines on the skin spread out from the injured area
  • you experience persisting or significant loss of sensation near the wound or you're having trouble moving any body parts 
  • you have a fever and feel unwell.

Learn more

Cuts, scratches and grazes Ministry of Health, New Zealand
Cuts and grazes NHS choices, UK, 2016

References

  1. Topical antibiotics for skin infections: when are they appropriate? BPAC, New Zealand, 2017
  2. Stop using topical antibiotics Goodfellow Gems
  3. Managing skin infections in Maori & Pacific families BPJ Article, August 2012
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Last reviewed: 23 May 2017