Children & Adolescents Clinic

 Home Parent's Guide

Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Spanish version

Cuts and Scratches - Brief Version

What are cuts and scratches?

Most cuts are not very deep. Cuts that need stitches are deep and leave the skin edges separated. Also, deep cuts that are longer than 1/2 inch (1/4 inch if on the face) need stitches.

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. Cut off any pieces of loose skin using small scissors (for torn skin with scrapes). Apply an antibiotic ointment. Cover it with a Band-Aid or gauze. Wash the wound and change the Band-Aid every day. Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) as needed to help the pain.

Don't use alcohol or Merthiolate on open wounds. They 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 stitched within 12 hours of the time of injury. They are much less likely to become infected if they are stitched 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 B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems