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Wounds, cuts and grazes

8-minute read

If you have a serious wound with bleeding, a broken bone, a serious burn, a significant head injury or an injury from a fall, call an ambulance on triple zero (000).

What are wounds, cuts and grazes?

A wound is a break or damage to the skin surface. Minor wounds do not usually need medical attention and can usually be treated with first aid.

What causes wounds, cuts and grazes?

Wounds can be caused by something sudden, such as a cut, a fall or a bad knock.

Cuts, grazes and lacerations are all examples of wounds. Cuts are usually caused by a sharp object like a knife or glass, or even a sheet of paper. Lacerations are a deep cut or tear of the skin - they usually have irregular jagged edges.

Grazes (also known as abrasions) are superficial (surface) injuries where the upper skin layer is damaged by friction. Grazes can happen when a person falls off a skateboard or bike and their body moves across the ground. ‘Road rash’ is a term used to describe these injuries in cyclists or motorcyclists, resulting from the skin scraping the road surface.

Puncture wounds are deep wounds caused by a sharp pointed object, such as a nail, penetrating the skin. An animal bite can also cause a puncture wound. Puncture wounds may not bleed very much, but they are prone to infection.

Surgical wounds are cuts made during surgery – they are usually closed with stitches (sutures).

Other types of wounds can be caused by being immobile, such as bed sores or pressure sores and ulcers.

When should I see my doctor?

You can look after most minor wounds, such as many cuts and abrasions, yourself, by keeping them clean and preventing infection. Most wounds will heal themselves, but you should see a doctor or nurse if:

  • the wound is deep, including puncture wounds, or doesn’t stop bleeding when you apply pressure
  • you can’t properly clean dirt and debris out of the cut
  • the wound has dirt, a thorn, glass or other foreign body in it
  • you have cut your hand from punching something
  • the cut is over a joint
  • the wound is more than a few millimetres deep and/or the sides of the cut don’t sit together well by themselves (i.e. the wound “gapes”). These may need to be closed with stitches, tissue glue or staples
  • the wound is in or near your eye or is on your eyelid and is not shallow
  • you notice changes around the wound, such as spreading redness, increasing pain, tenderness or swelling, or it starts oozing pus
  • you develop a temperature
  • the wound is from a bite, whether by an animal or another human
  • the wound is contaminated with soil or saliva, or was sustained in dirty water
  • you have diabetes
  • you’re not sure whether you’re up to date with your tetanus shots
  • you have a wound that’s not healing or is very slow to heal

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the wounds Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Self-care for wounds, cuts and grazes

You can look after most minor cuts and wounds yourself, by following these steps

  • stop any bleeding by holding a clean cloth or bandage on it and apply firm light pressure
  • wash your hands well before cleaning the wound
  • clean the wound by rinsing it with clean water and picking out any dirt or debris with tweezers
  • antiseptic creams are not necessary and may delay healing
  • dry the wound by patting the surrounding skin with a clean pad or towel
  • replace any skin flaps over the wound if possible with a moist cotton bud or pad
  • cover the wound (small wounds can be left uncovered) with a non-stick or gentle dressing; avoid tape on fragile skin
  • keeping the wound covered keeps it moist which helps it to heal
  • if the wound is in an area that’s difficult to dress (such as the scalp), concentrate on keeping the area clean and dry
  • change the dressing every day

See a doctor or nurse for a tetanus immunisation within a day if you (or any injured person) have had a cut or abrasion and any of the following apply:

  • it is more than 10 years since your last tetanus shot or you can’t remember when you last had a tetanus shot
  • you have had fewer than 3 tetanus immunisations in your lifetime, or you’re not sure how many you’ve had
  • it is more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot and there was dirt in in the cut or abrasion, or the cut is deep

It's also important to care for yourself, as this helps wounds heal faster. So eat healthy food, avoid smoking, and avoid drinking too much alcohol.

Avoid swimming with any cut (unless it’s a minor abrasion) until your cut is healed.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What are the possible complications of wounds?

Infection is one of the most common complications of wounds. If a wound isn’t healing or there is redness, increasing pain, swelling, warmth, oozing or pus, or the wound smells, you should seek medical attention immediately, as it may be infected. Fever is also a sign of infection.

Tetanus is a potentially fatal infection that can infect most types of wounds, especially those contaminated with dirt or manure, and puncture wounds or animal bites. Keeping up to date with your tetanus immunisations is the best way to avoid getting tetanus.

People with diabetes tend to get infections from wounds more easily than other people. Wounds often heal more slowly due to poor blood flow. This can lead to the wound festering, when it may become red and oozes pus or liquid. Minor damage to the feet , even cuts or blisters, can become foot ulcers, so need immediate medical attention.

If you have diabetes, seek advice from your doctor or healthcare professional about caring for wounds.

Pain is another possible complication of a wound. Some wounds are painful – it may help to take pain relief medicines while the wound heals. However, if you feel the pain is worsening you should seek medical help straightaway.

Scar formation after minor injuries normally progresses without any problems. Scars tend to fade from their initial redness over time and flatten. You should keep a scar protected from sunburn, by wearing clothing that covers it, using sunscreen or staying in the shade outdoors. Sometimes a scar will be raised and unsightly or may restrict movement. If you develop any problematic scarring like this you should see your doctor, who may refer you to a dermatologist.

How can you prevent minor wounds?

Some people are more prone to wounds than others. Very active people and children get injured more often than others. Older people can have thinner, more fragile skin which tears easily.

Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of minor wounds:

  • chop away from yourself in the kitchen and ensure you chop on a flat surface
  • wear protective gear and clothing for sport
  • wear protective gear for DIY and gardening, such as gloves, leg protection and eye protection
  • do daily foot checks and see your podiatrist regularly if you have diabetes
  • if you have thin, fragile skin take care to cover it to protect against injury from sharp objects or furniture

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2021

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