Cuts and Scrapes: What You Can Treat and When You Need a Doctor

If you have children, you are no stranger to life's little calamities. They come in the form of skinned knees, scraped elbows, and stubbed toes. Here are some guidelines to help you treat those little accidents and know when it is time to seek help.

Steps to Treat Minor Wounds

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after treating an injury. If possible, put on disposable nonlatex gloves.
  • If there is bleeding, place a clean piece of gauze over the wound. Apply firm, but gentle pressure.
  • To cleanse the wound, rinse it under cool water. Use soap and water to clean the wound. Be aware that soap may cause irritation if it gets inside the wound. You do not have to use a stronger cleanser, like rubbing alcohol, to clean the wound.
  • Apply antibiotic cream to the wound before putting on a bandage. This cream may help the healing process and reduce the chance of infection and scarring.
  • Change the bandage every day or whenever it gets wet or dirty.
  • Check to make sure the wound is not infected. Tell your doctor if you have increasing pain, swelling, redness, or warmth.
  • Allow the scab to fall off by itself. Scabs that are picked take longer to heal. Plus, it may leave a scar.

When to See the Doctor

If these injuries happen, get medical care right away:

  • An injury that does not stop bleeding after 5 minutes of steady, firm pressure
  • A deep puncture wound or an injury that appears particularly deep or gaping and might need stitches
  • An injury that has foreign material embedded in it, such as glass, metal, or wood
  • A bite from an animal or a human
  • Any injury that shows signs of infection, such as increasing pain, swelling, redness, and warmth

Do not remove larger embedded objects, such as a knife or stick from a puncture wound. If you have any doubt, leave the object alone. They can be safely removed by a doctor.

Note: A child with a chronic condition, such as diabetes, should see a doctor right away if a wound is not healing well.

Your First-Aid Kits

If you do not have a first aid kit in your home, you can put one together, or purchase from your local American Red Cross, or drug store. It may be a good idea to have a first aid kit in your car as well.

Here are some supplies you should have in any first aid kit:

  • Absorbent compress dressings
  • Adhesive bandages in different sizes
  • Adhesive cloth tape
  • Antibiotic ointment packets
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Space blanket
  • Instant cold compress
  • Nonlatex disposable gloves
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Moist towelettes
  • Petroleum jelly or other lubricant
  • Scissors and tweezers
  • Roller bandage in different sizes
  • Sterile gauze pads in different sizes
  • Thermometer
  • Triangular bandages
  • Aspirin for possible heart attack
  • Breathing barrier for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  • First aid book

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests having a first aid kit in each car. In addition to items above, consider adding the following, especially during the summer months:

  • EpiPen
  • Benadryl
  • Bug spray
  • Sunblock
  • A bottle of water to rinse out wounds
  • Tick remover
  • Ziploc bags for teeth or a tick that is removed
  • Anti-nausea medication

First aid classes are a good starting point for parents, teacher, or even babysitters. Class information is located on the American Red Cross and American Heart Association websites.

If you have a smartphone, consider downloading a first aid app from the American Red Cross. Features of the app include first aid instructions, ability to call for emergency medical help, and safety tips. You can even take quizzes and earn badges to increase your first aid knowledge.


American Heart Association

American Red Cross


Canadian Red Cross

Canada Safety Council


Anatomy of a first aid kit. American Red Cross website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2017.

First aid guide for parents & caregivers. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: Updated January 5, 2017. Accessed August 14, 2017.

How to build an essential summer first aid kit. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: Updated April 29, 2015. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Laceration management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated October 25, 2016. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Markenson D, Ferguson JD, Chameides L, et al. Part 17: first aid: 2010 American Heart Association and American Red Cross guidelines for first aid. Circulation. 2010;122(18 Suppl 3):S934-S946.

What do I need in my first aid kit? Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: Updated June 2017. Accessed August 14, 2017.

Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 8/14/2017