Whether it’s climbing trees or the jungle gym, testing out a new bike or playing catch at the park – some tumbles and falls, bruises, cuts and scrapes are an inevitable part of outdoor fun. Michaella Y. Okihara, M.D., a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, often treats minor injuries in children and is used to answering parents’ questions about how to soothe and care for these wounds – beyond a kiss and a cuddle.
What's the best way to care for my child's cuts and scrapes?
For minor cuts or scrapes, the first thing to do is to clean the wounded area gently with water and a clean washcloth. “Don’t scrub too hard as this can irritate the wound,” Dr. Okihara warns. “Rinsing the area thoroughly under running water until it is clean is the best, and least painful, approach. If the wound is dirty, you can use a mild soap to get the dirt off.”
Remember, soap in the wound can feel quite irritating. Parents should check the injury every day and watch for signs of infection. These include redness and swelling around the wound, pus in the wound or a fever.
For bleeding wounds, apply gentle, firm pressure to the area with some clean gauze until the bleeding stops. If the wound does not stop bleeding, seek medical attention.
Should I cover my child's wound?
To promote healing, it’s best to leave the wound uncovered once you have cleaned it. If the wounded area is very exposed or will rub on clothing and feels uncomfortable, you can apply some antibiotic ointment and cover it with a Band-Aid. Check the wound and change the Band-Aid daily.
“Once the wound is dry, stop using any covering – unless it’s to prevent your child from picking the scab,” Dr. Okihara says.
When should I take my child to the doctor?
While most cuts and scrapes are not dangerous and will heal on their own, there are some situations where you should definitely seek medical help. Dr. Okihara’s list of situations that are beyond home DIY first-aid include:
- If your child’s wound is very dirty – and you are having difficulty cleaning it properly – or it is very deep, you should head to the doctor.
- If your child has a deep cut or the edges of the cut are separated, it is possible that it will need stitches or glue to heal. “Go the doctor right away,” she says. “The risk of infection increases dramatically after a wound has been open for more than six to eight hours, so closing the injury early is best.”
- You should also see the doctor for any deep cut or laceration on your child’s face.
- If your child has a puncture wound (for example, has stepped on a nail), check with your doctor to make sure your child’s tetanus immunization status is current.
How should I care for bruises, strains and sprains?
Dr. Okihara often reassures parents that even a big bruise blooming in all colors under the sun can look a lot worse than it is. “Generally, most bruises are not serious and the inflammation can be soothed with cool compresses,” she says. “If the bruise is very tender, abnormally large and makes it hard for your child to walk or move, have it checked out.”
To ease the discomfort of minor strains, sprains or twists, she advises using R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
How can I tell whether my child has broken a bone?
“If your child has a fracture, there will be lots of swelling around the injured area and it will be very painful to touch,” Dr. Okihara explains.
Another sign to watch for is that the injury and pain will impair your child’s movement. For example, a child with a broken bone may be unable to walk without a lot of pain. In these cases, check with your child’s doctor to see if an X-ray might be necessary.
What's good to have on hand to take care of my child's minor injuries?
“Clean, running water is your best friend for cleaning wounds and scrapes, but it’s always good to have a first aid kit at home and in the car,” Dr. Okihara says. She recommends stocking your kit with:
- Bandages and Band-Aids in a variety of sizes
- Ace bandage (for compression and to stem bleeding)
- Iodine solution (for deeper cleaning, if you have no access to water)
- Antibiotic ointment
- Over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Tweezers and scissors
Every healthy childhood will have some bumps, scrapes and bruises as children explore their world and test their abilities. With a little preparation, you will be ready to handle these inevitable small accidents, Dr. Okihara says.