Cuts and bruises are part-and-parcel of growing up and fortunately, most are not too serious. But, they can still be worrying for parents especially if their child is still quite young, and also if there is blood involved.
Should you cover a cut with a plaster or leave it to ‘air-dry’? Can you place ice directly on an area that you think will bruise? And when should you be worried about a cut or bruise and take your child to a doctor?
While the body is usually very good at healing itself, it’s always a good thing for parents to know some basic first-aid when it comes to cuts and bruises, which we describe in this article.
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Types of cuts*
According to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, these are the different types of cuts that your little one can get:
- Cuts, lacerations, gashes and tears: These are wounds that go through the skin to the fat tissue, and are often caused by a sharp object.
- Scrapes, abrasions, scratches and floor burns: These are surface wounds that don’t go all the way through the skin. Scrapes are common on the knees, elbows and palms.
*Page 2 of this article contains information on when you need to seek immediate medical attention for your child’s cut.
Treatment of cuts, scratches and scrapes
1. Wash up first
Before you take care of your child’s cut, wash your own hands thoroughly with soap and under running water. This will prevent the risk of germs from your hands entering the cut. If your child is crying and upset, calm him down and reassure him that you are there to help.
If your child only has a small cut or scrape, the bleeding should stop on it own. In fact, bleeding for a short while is actually a good thing because it flushes out any germs present.
However, if you notice that the bleeding doesn’t stop, apply pressure to the wound until it does, placing a clean piece of gauze or a towel over the cut first. Usually, around 10 minutes of pressure applied like this will stop the bleeding of a minor cut.
3. Clean the cut
Learn what to do when your child gets a cut.
Wash around the wound with soap and water for at least a few minutes, advise medical experts at Seattle Children’s Hospital. This will help flush out any debris like grass, dirt or gravel from the cut.
Try to wash the wound under cold or lukewarm running water, avoiding getting soap directly in the cut as this can sting badly.
If you can see pieces of dirt and the like in the cut (but not embedded in it) and they are not getting flushed out by the water, gently remove them with a pair of sterilised tweezers.
Never blow on a cut as this can expose it to germs.
Paediatrician Dr. Danelle Fisher advises that you should avoid applying rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or iodine on the cut after washing it as they can “irritate the exposed tissue and interfere with the healing process.”
Instead, you only need to gently pat the area dry with a clean piece of gauze or towel after washing the wound.
If the wound continues to bleed or ooze, medical professionals advise that you can apply pressure again with a sterile pad. You could also try raising the injured area above the level of the heart to reduce or stop the bleeding.
If the wound is on the lips or outside area of the mouth, wash it well with soap and water, but do not scrub the wound. After you clean it, give your child an ice pop or ice cube to suck on, as this will help to stop any bleeding and reduce swelling.
Dab a small amount of antibiotic ointment on the wound. The medical advice is that you avoid applying essential oils, vitamin E or coconut oil on the wound until a scab forms, as these may not be sterile.
5. Dress it
Cover the wound lightly with a loose, sterile dressing. This will protect the cut and keep the area moist. Do avoid getting the dressing stuck on the wound as this will hurt your child when you remove it.
You’ll need to change the bandage daily or each time it gets wet or dirty, remembering to dab on some ointment each time.
Once a firm scab forms, you can drop the bandage, and expose the wound to air. Do tell your child not to pick at the scab as this can interfere with the healing process, make the wound bleed again and/or infect it, especially if the little fingers picking at it are grubby!
Tips to prevent your child from picking at scabs
- Keep their nails short: Long, sharp nails are not only a handy tool for picking away at that scab, but they are also a perfect hiding place for dirt and germs. So keep those fingernails trimmed and short.
- Cover fingers: If your child is still quite young and cannot understand why it’s important not to pick at scabs, try covering their fingers with bandaids to prevent them from itching. Do remember not to wrap the plaster too tightly as this could interfere with blood circulation.
- Explain and reward: Try explaining to an older child why it’s important to not pick at their scab. Reinforce and encourage with a reward system like a star chart if necessary.
- Distraction: This works best with toddlers and younger children.
Picking at scabs should be discouraged to promote healthy and complete healing and to prevent infection.
When to call the doctor
Sometimes, your child’s cut will require more than basic first-aid at home. You should see a doctor (or call 995) without delay if your little one experiences any of the following:
- A cut that bleeds heavily (including spurting blood) or does not stop bleeding even after 15 minutes of applying pressure (call 995)
- The skin is split open/gaping and you feel it may need stitches (call 995)
- The would is more than half an inch long and has flesh protruding from it (call 995)
- Your child is under the age of one
- A cut sustained from an accident, an animal or human bite, or from very sharp, rusty or dirty object (call 995)
- The dirt in the wound is still there even after over 10 minutes of washing
- Skin loss from a bad scrape goes very deep
- The cut or scrape looks infected with spreading redness or streaks going from the direction of the wound, to the heart
- The cut has a foreign object firmly lodged in it (call 995)
- Any injury on a part of the body where treatment and healing may be more difficult, such as on a joint, on the face, neck or inside the mouth or eye/s.
- If you are unsure about when your child last had his tetanus shot, especially if the cut is due to a rusty or dirty object.
Learn how to minimise bruising in your child
Right from when they start to walk, kids are so prone to bumping themselves or falling down, getting bruised in the process.
Here’s what you can do to treat your child’s bruise at home.
If your child has knocked himself and you think it’s going to result in a bruise, get an ice pack or some ice. Wrap it in a clean, dry towel and place it on the affected area for 15-20 minutes. Never place ice directly on the skin.
If your child has knocked an area of his body that he can lift up, e.g. his arm, foot or leg, keep this area elevated above his heart if possible. What this does is prevent the blood from collecting in the injured area and therefore minimises bruising.
After 48 hours, apply a heat pad or warm, wet washcloth to the affected area. According to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, this helps to reabsorb the blood as well as ease any discomfort you child may be experiencing.
Remember: Never leave your child alone with a heating pad or other hot object.
When to call the doctor
You should seek a medical opinion without delay if you notice any of the following:
- The bruising is unexplained and not the result of an injury, or your child has a large number of bruises
- The bruise doesn’t disappear or fade within a couple of weeks
- A minor injury results in a very large bruise
- The bruise is the result of a traumatic incident such as a tumble down the stairs, or a fall from a very high place
- Your child has fever
- The bruised area is very painful, swollen or looks infected
Watch this video to see how to treat your child’s cuts, scrapes or bruises:
Seattle Children’s Hospital