In general, most minor cuts and grazes should be treated easily at home. All that is required is to stop any bleeding, clean the wound thoroughly and cover with a plaster or dressing, and you should begin to see healing within a few days. Follow the steps below to reduce any risk of infection.
- Stop any bleeding before applying a dressing to the wound.
- Apply pressure to the area using a clean and dry absorbent material – such as a bandage, towel or handkerchief – for several minutes.
- If the cut is to your hand or arm, raise it above your head to help 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.
- 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
- keep the dressing clean by changing it as often as necessary.
- Use waterproof dressings to keep the wound dry while bathing and showering.
If the wound is painful for the first few days, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
When to get medical help
Call NHS 111 or visit your local walk-in-centre or GP if you believe your cut or wound could become infected, or you think it’s already infected.
There is a risk of infection if:
- it’s been contaminated with dirt, pus or other 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 or above
- swollen glands under your chin or in your neck, armpits or groin
Go to A&E if …
- the bleeding won’t stop
- 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 persistent or significant loss of sensation near the wound or you’re having trouble moving any body parts
- you have a severe cut to your face – you may need urgent treatment to prevent scarring
- you have a cut on 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 A&E, your wound will be examined to determine whether there’s a risk of infection. You may need an injection to prevent tetanus (a bacterial infection), and the wound may be closed with stitches, strips or special glue before a dressing is applied.
If there’s a risk of infection, the wound 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.