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Search Health Information    Scrapes

Scrapes

Topic Overview

Causes and types of scrapes

Scrapes (abrasions) are skin wounds that rub or tear off skin. Most scrapes are shallow and do not extend far into the skin, but some may remove several layers of skin. Usually there is little bleeding from a scrape, but it may ooze pinkish fluid. Most scrapes are minor, so home treatment is usually all that is needed to care for the wound.

Scrapes occur most often in warm weather or warm climates when the skin on the arms and legs is more exposed. They are most commonly caused by accidents or falls but can occur anytime the skin is rubbed against a hard surface, such as the ground, a sidewalk, a carpet, an artificial playing surface, or a road (road rash). School-age children ages 5 to 9 are most affected.

Scrapes can occur on any part of the body but usually affect bony areas, such as the hands, forearms, elbows, knees, or shins. Scrapes on the head or face may appear worse than they are and bleed a lot because of the good blood supply to this area. Controlling the bleeding will allow you to determine the seriousness of the injury. Scrapes are usually more painful than cuts because scrapes tear a larger area of skin and expose more nerve endings.

How a scrape heals depends on the depth, size, and location of the scrape. Occasionally the injury that caused the scrape will also have caused a cut or several cuts that may need to be treated by a doctor. For more information, see the topic Cuts.

What to do if you get a scrape?

When you have a scrape:

  • Stop the bleeding with direct pressure to the wound.
  • Determine if other tissues, such as blood vessels, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, bones, or internal organs, have been injured.
  • Determine if you need to be evaluated and treated by a doctor.
  • Clean the wound and remove any dirt or debris to prevent infections (both bacterial skin infections and tetanus , or lockjaw), decrease scarring, and prevent "tattooing" of the skin. (If dirt or other debris is not removed from a scrape, the new skin heals over it. The dirt can then be seen through the skin and often looks like a tattoo.)
  • Determine if you need a tetanus shot.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

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Home Treatment

Minor scrapes can be treated effectively at home. Home treatment can prevent infection and promote healing. If you do not have a high risk of infection, do not have other injuries, and do not need a tetanus shot or an evaluation by a doctor, you can clean and bandage a scrape at home. How a scrape heals depends on the depth, size, and location of the scrape.

Bleeding

Stop the bleeding with direct pressure to the wound.

Nonprescription products can be applied to the skin to help stop mild bleeding of minor cuts, lacerations, or abrasions. Before you buy or use a nonprescription product, be sure to read the label carefully and follow the label's instructions when you apply the product.

After you have stopped the bleeding, check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

A scrape may continue to ooze small amounts of blood for up to 24 hours and may ooze clear, yellowish, or blood-tinged fluid for several days.

Cleaning the wound

Clean the wound as soon as possible to reduce the chance of infection, scarring, and "tattooing." (If dirt or other debris is not removed from a scrape, the new skin will heal over it. The dirt can then be seen through the skin and may look like a tattoo.)

  • Remove any splinters from the scrape before you get the splinters wet..
  • Use a large amount of water under moderate pressure (faucet at least halfway open). Washing the wound will remove as much dirt, debris, and bacteria as possible, which will reduce the risk of infection.
  • If you have a water sprayer in your kitchen sink, try using the sprayer to wash the wound. This usually removes most of the dirt and other objects from the wound. Avoid getting any spray from the wound into your eyes. It may be easier to rinse a large, dirty scrape in the shower.
  • Wash the wound for 5 minutes with large amounts of clean, running water and soap. Mild dishwashing soap, such as Ivory, works well. Some nonprescription products are available for wound cleaning that numb the area so cleaning doesn't hurt as much. Be sure to read the product label for correct use.
  • Scrub gently with a washcloth. Moderate scrubbing may be needed if the wound is very dirty. Scrubbing your scrape will probably hurt and may increase bleeding, but it is necessary to clean the wound thoroughly.
  • Do not use rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or Mercurochrome, which can harm the tissue and slow healing.

Stitches, staples, or skin adhesives (also called liquid stitches)

Determine whether your wound needs to be treated by a doctor. Scrapes usually do not need to be closed with stitches, staples, or skin adhesives, but sometimes you will have a deep cut along with a scrape.

Consider applying a bandage

Most scrapes heal well and may not need a bandage. You may wish to protect the scrape from dirt or irritation. It is important to clean the scrape thoroughly before bandaging it to reduce the risk of infection occurring under the bandage. Scrapes may heal with or without forming a scab.

  • Select the bandage carefully. There are many products available. Liquid skin bandages and moisture enhancing bandages are available with other first aid products. Before you buy or use one, be sure to read the label carefully and follow the label's instructions when you apply the bandage.
  • If you use a cloth-like bandage, apply a clean bandage when your bandage gets wet or soiled to further help prevent infection. If a bandage is stuck to a scab, soak it in warm water to soften the scab and make the bandage easier to remove. If available, use a nonstick dressing. There are many bandage products available. Be sure to read the product label for correct use.
  • Watch for signs of infection . If you have an infection under a bandage, a visit to your doctor may be needed.
  • An antibiotic ointment, such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin, will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. Apply the ointment lightly to the wound. Antibiotic ointments have not been shown to improve healing. Be sure to read the product label about skin sensitivity. If you have a skin rash or itching under the bandage, stop using the ointment. The rash may be caused by an allergic reaction to the ointment.

Tetanus

  • Determine whether you need a tetanus shot.
  • You may have a localized reaction to a tetanus shot. Symptoms include warmth, swelling, and redness at the injection site. A fever of up to 100°F (37.8°C) may occur. Home treatment can help reduce the discomfort.

Swelling, bruising, and pain relief

An ice or cold pack may help reduce swelling and bruising. Never apply ice directly to a wound or the skin. This could cause tissue damage.

Elevate the injured area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to reduce swelling.

Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

Prevention

Since most scrapes are caused by accidents or falls, it is hard to prevent them. Some general safety tips may reduce your risk of injury.

  • Pay close attention to what you are doing.
  • Know how to use objects properly.
  • Have good lighting so you can see what you are doing.
  • Prevent falls in your home by removing hazards that might cause a fall.
  • Wear gloves whenever possible to protect your hands.
  • Wear other safety gear, such as glasses or boots, as appropriate.
  • Wear protective gear, such as hand, wrist, elbow, or knee pads and helmets, during sports or recreation activities.
  • Store dangerous objects in secure places away from children.
  • Teach children about safety, and be a good role model.

Be sure to have a tetanus shot every 10 years.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

Questions to prepare for your appointment

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What are your main symptoms? How long have you had your symptoms?
  • How and when did the injury occur? Have you had any injuries in the past to the same area? Do you have any continuing problems because of the previous injury?
  • Did other injuries occur at the same time?
  • What home treatment measures have you tried? Did they help?
  • What nonprescription medicines have you tried. Did they help?
  • What prescription and nonprescription medicine do you take?
  • Were drugs or alcohol involved in your injury?
  • When was your last tetanus shot?
  • Do you have any health risks?

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised June 6, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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