Cuts and grazes are a common type of injury and in most cases do not pose a threat to health.
Most cuts and grazes are minor and can be easily treated at home.
Cleaning them thoroughly and covering them with a plaster or dressing is all that's 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.
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. Keep the wound dry by using waterproof dressings, which will allow you to take showers.
Read more information about how to apply plasters and other dressings.
The wound should heal by itself in a few days. If the wound is painful, you can take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
When to seek medical help
Seek medical advice if there is a risk of a cut or graze becoming infected, or you think it has already become infected.
You are more at risk of the wound becoming infected if:
- it has been contaminated with soil, pus, bodily fluids or faeces (stools)
- there was something in the wound before it was cleaned, such as a tooth or a shard of glass
- the wound has a jagged edge
- the wound is longer than 5cm (1.9 inches)
You should also contact your GP if your skin was bitten (either by an animal or a person) as bites are prone to infection.
Signs that a wound has become infected include:
- swelling of the affected area
- pus forming in the affected area
- redness spreading from the cut or graze
- increasing pain in the wound
- feeling generally unwell
- a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
- swollen glands
An infected wound can usually be successfully treated with a short course of antibiotics (usually around seven days).
You can also visit your local walk-in centre or minor injuries unit for medical assistance.
When to go to accident and emergency (A&E)
Some cuts and grazes can be more serious and will require you to go to accident and emergency (A&E) for treatment.
It is recommended that you go to A&E if:
- you are bleeding from a cut artery – blood from an artery comes out in spurts (with each beat of the heart), is bright red, and is usually hard to control
- you cannot stop the bleeding
- you experience loss of sensation near the wound or you are having trouble moving body parts – if this is the case, you may have damaged underlying nerves
- there is severe pain, extensive bruising, and you are having trouble moving body parts – if this is the case, you may have damaged one of your tendons
- you have received a cut to the face – you may require urgent treatment to prevent scarring
- you have received a cut to the palm of your hand and the cut looks infected – these types of infection can spread quickly
- there is a possibility that a foreign body is still inside the wound
- the cut is extensive, complex or has caused a lot of tissue damage
At the hospital, your cut will be examined to determine whether or not there is any risk of infection. If there is glass inside the cut, you may need an X-ray to ensure it has been removed.
What happens in A&E if there is no risk of infection
If there is no risk of infection, your cut will be cleaned using water or a sterile saline solution before it's closed. 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; a sterile surgical thread is used for the stitches, which is flexible and allows the wound to move
- 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, and the paste dries to form a flexible layer that keeps the cut closed
- skin-closure strips (butterfly stitches) – 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 can be placed over the edges of the cut to hold them together, and are easier to remove than tissue adhesive
Once your cut is closed, it may be covered with a protective dressing to ensure that your stitches, tissue adhesive or skin-closure strips stay in place.
If you have stitches or strips, you will need to return to the hospital 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. Read more information about caring for your stitches.
Tissue adhesive comes off by itself after a week or so. Read more information about caring for a wound treated with skin glue.
To prevent tetanus (a serious bacterial infection), you may be given a tetanus booster injection. If it's suspected that you are at risk of developing tetanus, you may be referred for specialist treatment.
If there is risk of infection or it 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, the cut will be packed with a non-sticky dressing so that it cannot close before it is covered 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 to see if any infection has cleared up. If so, your cut will be closed using stitches or skin-closure strips.
If your infection has not cleared up, a change of antibiotics may be required.
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.
Read more information about skin grafts.
Cuts and grazes in children
Younger children are particularly prone to getting cuts and grazes as they often trip up and fall over things as they learn how to walk.
Older children get cuts and grazes when playing or taking part in sports.
Most cuts and grazes are not serious, but you should check for any signs of infection for the first few days after the cut has occurred.
Redness and swelling are signs of infection. If you suspect that your child's injury has become infected, take them to your GP.
If your child has a cut that will not stop bleeding or is gaping open, you will need to take them to A&E.
Read more about accidents in children.
First aid kit
You should always make sure that you have a first aid kit at your home and place of work.
Read more about what you should keep in a first aid kit.
Page last reviewed: 10/04/2014
Next review due: 10/04/2016