How to treat cuts and grazes
Stop the bleeding
Stop any bleeding before applying a dressing to the wound. Apply pressure to the area using a clean and dry absorbent material for several minutes. For example, a bandage or a dry clean towel could be used.
If the cut is to your hand or arm, raise it above your head. This helps to 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.
Clean the wound and apply a dressing
When the wound has stopped bleeding, clean it and cover it with a dressing to help stop it becoming infected.
To do this:
- wash and dry your hands thoroughly
- clean the wound under drinking-quality running tap water – avoid using antiseptic as it may damage the skin and slow healing
- pat the area dry with a clean towel
- apply a sterile adhesive dressing, such as a plaster – read more about how to apply plasters and other dressings
Keep the dressing clean by changing it as often as necessary. Keep the wound dry by using waterproof dressings. This will allow you to take showers.
You can remove the dressing after a few days, once the wound has closed itself.
Take painkillers if needed
When to get medical help
A wound is at risk of infection if:
- it has been contaminated with dirt, pus or other bodily fluids
- there was something in the wound before it was cleaned, such as gravel or a shard of glass
- it has a jagged edge
- it's longer than 5cm (2 inches)
- it was caused by an animal or human bite
Signs a wound has become infected include:
- swelling, redness and increasing pain in the affected area
- pus forming in or around the wound
- feeling generally unwell
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
- swollen glands under the chin or in the neck, armpits or groin
An infected wound can usually be successfully treated with a short course of antibiotics.
When to go to an emergency department
Go to your nearest emergency department as soon as possible if:
- you cannot stop the bleeding
- 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
- you experience persisting or significant loss of sensation near the wound or you're having trouble moving any body parts
- you have received a severe cut to the face – you may require urgent treatment to prevent scarring
- you have received a cut to the palm of your hand and it looks infected – these types of infection can spread quickly
- there's a possibility a foreign body is still inside the wound
- the wound is very large or the injury has caused a lot of tissue damage
In the emergency department, your wound will be examined and treated.
If there is any risk of infection, you may need a booster injection to prevent tetanus.
Your wound may be also closed with stitches, strips or special glue before a dressing is applied.
If your wound is at risk of infection, it won't usually be closed because this may trap any infection inside.
Instead, it will be packed with a non-sticky dressing before being covered with a protective dressing until it's safe to close.