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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).

Key facts

  • Cuts, grazes and lacerations are all examples of wounds.
  • A wound is a break or damage to your skin.
  • You can care for most wounds at home and manage pain with medicine.
  • Some wounds will need stitches or dressing by a doctor to help them heal.
  • If you have a wound and are not up to date on your tetanus immunisation, you should see a doctor.

What are wounds, cuts and grazes?

Cuts, grazes and lacerations are all examples of wounds. A wound is a break or damage to the skin's surface.

Cuts are also called incisions. They are neat, straight wounds in your skin.

Lacerations are a deep cut or tear of your skin — they usually have irregular jagged edges.

Grazes are also known as abrasions. They are superficial (surface) injuries to the upper layer of your skin.

What are the symptoms of wounds, cuts and grazes?

Cuts, grazes and lacerations are all examples of wounds.

Wounds may be:

  • painful
  • red
  • swollen

Wounds may also bleed. Cuts can sometimes damage your blood vessels causing a lot of bleeding.

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

What causes wounds, cuts and grazes?

What causes wounds?

Wounds can be caused by something sudden, such as:

  • a cut
  • a fall
  • knocking against an object

Puncture wounds are deep wounds caused by a sharp pointed object penetrating the skin, such as:

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

Sometimes wounds may appear due to not moving enough or because of diseases of your veins, arteries or nerves. These types of wounds are called sores and ulcers.

What causes cuts?

Cuts are usually caused by a sharp object slicing the skin, like:

  • a knife
  • glass
  • even a sheet of paper

Lacerations happen when the skin is split from trauma — being hit by something hard.

What causes grazes?

Grazes are often caused by friction — when your skin is scraped away by a rough surface.

Grazes can happen when you fall off a skateboard or bike and your body moves across the ground.

When should I see my doctor?

Minor wounds usually do not need medical attention.

You should see a doctor or nurse within 6 hours if your wound:

  • doesn't stop bleeding
  • is on your eyelid or near your eye
  • is dirty or happened in dirty water
  • is very painful
  • is over a joint, like your knee or knuckle
  • is from a bite, whether by an animal or another human
  • you're not sure whether you're up to date with your tetanus shots

You should also see a doctor if the wound is:

  • more than a few millimetres deep
  • gaping — the sides of the wound don't sit together well by themselves

These kinds of wounds may need to be closed with:

  • stitches
  • tissue glue
  • staples

You should also see a doctor if you have any signs of infection. You can read more about infection below.

When to seek urgent care

If your wound is deep, a nurse or doctor should look at it within 2 hours.

Call an ambulance and seek urgent care if you have a wound and:

  • you feel faint, have chest pain, or are short of breath
  • it is in your eye

You should also call an ambulance if you have a deep wound and:

  • it doesn't stop bleeding when you apply pressure
  • you are taking blood-thinning medicines

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

How are wounds, cuts and grazes diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine your wound and ask you:

  • how it happened
  • what your symptoms are

They will also examine you to check that you have no other injuries.

How are wounds, cuts and grazes treated?

You can look after most wounds yourself, and they will heal themselves.

However, some wounds may require treatment to help them heal and prevent infection.

Self-care at home

If you get a wound, you can:

  • press firmly on the wound with a clean cloth or bandage for 5 minutes to stop the bleeding
  • wash your hands well before cleaning the wound
  • clean the wound by rinsing it with clean water or saline
  • remove any dirt or debris with tweezers or a clean cloth
  • dry the wound by patting the surrounding skin with a clean pad or towel
  • if possible, cover the wound with a non-stick dressing, or a small band aid

You can look after most minor cuts and wounds yourself, by:

  • resting, so the wound does not open again
  • keeping your wound clean
  • covering the wound — this helps to keeps it moist as it heals
  • keep the dressing dry and change it every few days
  • avoiding the sun if possible — use an SPF 30+ sunscreen and wearing protective clothing

It's also important to care for yourself, as this helps wounds heal faster. So:

Avoid swimming with any cut (unless it's a small graze) until it is healed.

Medicines for wounds, cuts and grazes

If your wound is causing pain, you can take simple pain relief medicine such as:

  • paracetamol
  • ibuprofen

You can speak to your doctor or pharmacist for advice on the best medicine for you. Antiseptic creams are not necessary.

Your doctor may give you antibiotics to prevent the wound from becoming infected.

Other treatment options

If you have a gaping wound, your doctor may need to keep it closed it with:

  • sutures (stitches)
  • staples
  • special glue
  • special dressings

This will help your wound to heal.

Wounds and diabetes

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

In people with diabetes, wounds on your feet may go unnoticed due to a loss of feeling called neuropathy. These wounds may heal more slowly due to poor blood flow and infection.


You should also see a doctor or nurse for a tetanus immunisation within a day if you 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 one
  • you have had less than 3 tetanus immunisations in your life, or you're not sure how many you've had
  • it is more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot and your wound was dirty or deep

Can wounds, cuts and grazes be prevented?

There are some things you can do to reduce your risk of wounds, such as:

  • using sharp objects safely
  • doing daily foot checks and seeing your podiatrist regularly if you have diabetes
  • cover and protect your skin if it is thin or fragile

For activities such as sport, gardening, and crafts, be sure to wear protective gear and clothing such as:

  • eye protection
  • gloves
  • leg protection

Complications of wounds, cuts and grazes

Wounds can cause some complications, such as:

  • scabbing and scaring
  • infections

Scabbing and scarring

As your wound heals it may form a scab. Avoid picking the crust as this can cause scarring and infection — it will fall off by itself.

All wounds can scar. Scars look red and thick at first but will fade to become thin and white over time.

Sometimes a scar will be thick and raised. If you develop any scarring that bothers you, see your doctor. They may refer you to a dermatologist (a doctor who specialises in treating skin issues).


You should seek medical attention immediately if you have a wound and are showing any signs of infection. These may include:

  • spreading redness or swelling around the wound
  • you develop a temperature
  • if the wound is not healing after about 5 days
  • if your wound starts oozing pus

Tetanus is a potentially fatal infection that can infect most types of wounds, especially:

  • those contaminated with dirt or faeces (poo)
  • puncture wounds
  • those caused by animal bites

Keeping up to date with your tetanus immunisation is the best way to avoid getting tetanus.

Resources and support

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: February 2024

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