Cut, scrape or puncture the skin and our bodies immediately begin to heal the wound.
When it comes to animal bites, cuts deeper than a quarter inch or those that bleed excessively, people should see a doctor, says UCI Health family medicine specialist Sara Etemad, MD.
But many minor injuries can be treated at home by observing a few rules to prevent infection and ensure complete healing.
First, it’s helpful to understand the stages of the body’s natural healing process, says Etemad, who sees patients at UCI Health — Tustin.
Stages of wound healing
- Blood begins to clot and a scab begins to form.
- White blood cells help to ward off infection and begin to repair the damaged tissue and any broken blood vessels.
- Red blood cells create collagen to form a base for new tissue to grow in the wound.
- New skin forms over this tissue, and as the edges pull inward, the wound gets smaller.
- A scar forms, strengthening the area over the wound.
To boost this natural healing process, cleansing the wound is the first priority. Etemad offers the following advice:
Do this to promote healing
- Immediately irrigate the wound with water by holding it under the tap and wash the area with gentle soap then pat dry.
- Small cuts and scrapes can be left uncovered, but moisture is usually needed to help speed up the healing process.
- Apply petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and cover with an adhesive bandage any exposed wounds that might become dirty on the hands, feet, arms or legs. For people who are sensitive to adhesive, a gauze pad can be secured with paper tape.
- Cleanse the wound daily with soap and water, and apply fresh petroleum jelly and a bandage.
- Once the wound has healed, apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to control scarring.
Don’t do this to your wounds
- Don’t apply a topical antibiotic. Studies show that petroleum jelly is just as effective as an antibiotic ointment for non-infected wounds.
- Don’t douse a minor wound with antiseptics like iodine or hydrogen peroxide. They’re actually harmful to the skin and can delay healing.
Most minor cuts and scrapes will heal in a matter of days. But some wounds are at a higher risk of infection and may need a topical antibiotic. If you are unsure about your wound, it's a good idea to seek medical attention.
Etemad says it’s also important to know when to get medical treatment.
When to see your doctor
- Animal bites
- Cuts or punctures from a rusty or dirty object, because you may need a tetanus shot
- Wounds deeper than a quarter inch, that won’t stop bleeding after keeping direct pressure on the injury for over 5 minutes
- Wounds with jagged or far apart edges that can't be brought together easily and may require stitches or skin glue
- Wounds on the face that may need special attention for cosmetic reasons
- Signs of serious infection, such as when the wound is red, warm or painful to touch, draining pus or is surrounded by red streaks
Remember to cleanse your wound daily with gentle soap and water, apply petroleum jelly and cover it with an adhesive bandage for faster healing, Etemad says, adding, "And if you have any questions or are unsure about your wound, come visit us at our Tustin office."