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Minor Injuries: Cuts, Scrapes, Burns, and Bites

Did you know that your family doctor can treat you for many minor injuries — often on the same day?

We treat small and minor injuries such as:

  • Cuts and scrapes.
  • Burns.
  • Bites and stings.

For serious injuries, you should always call 911 or head to the emergency room.

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What Is a Minor Injury?

A minor injury is an injury that's not life-threatening. It just needs either basic first aid at home or attention from a health provider.

From dog bites to cuts and scrapes, minor injuries are common.

But many carry the risk of bleeding or infection. That's why it's a good idea to know what signs to look for.

What types of minor injuries can UPMC doctors see?

Our family medicine and urgent care providers see a wide range of injuries.

In the office, we have the supplies and expertise to:

  • Close cuts.
  • Remove stitches.
  • Clean and bandage scrapes and burns.
  • Treat insect and animal bites or stings.

We also see people with minor musculoskeletal or sports injuries such as:

  • Sprains.
  • Strains
  • Bumps and bruises.
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How Do You Treat Minor Injuries?

There's a lot you can do for minor injuries at home, as long as you manage the risk of infection.

Unless it's an emergency, you can always start with basic first aid at home.

Below are some minor injury examples, with information about at-home care and when to call the doctor.

How to treat cuts and scrapes

Apply pressure to stop bleeding. Cuts to the face or head tend to bleed more than other areas. This means they can look worse than they are.

Clean the wound as soon as you can. Wash with soap and warm water for 5 minutes and pat dry with a clean towel.

For scrapes with a lot of dirt, cleanse the wound gently.

Use clean tweezers to remove any bigger pieces of debris. Don't use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide because they can slow healing.

When should I see a doctor about my wound?

If dirt, glass, or other debris won't come out of the wound, call your doctor for help.

Bandage the wound, and call the doctor if you notice any signs of infection, including:

  • Increased swelling, redness, and pain around the wound.
  • Red streaks coming from the wound.
  • Pus (which is yellow in color and has a bad smell).
  • Fever.

Your wound may need stitches if it 's:

  • Deeper than about a quarter of an inch.
  • Jagged or wide.

If the wound continues to bleed after about 10 minutes, you should also seek care. It's normal for scrapes to ooze small amounts of blood or blood-tinged fluid for a day or more.

How to treat burns

You can get burns from heat, cold, electric shock, friction, or chemicals.

Burns injure your layers of skin.

First-degree burns injure only the first layer of skin, and are more superficial. By contrast, third-degree injure all skin layers and always need health treatment.

You can treat minor burns yourself at home:

  • For thermal burns (like from hot water), run cool tap water over the burn for up to 5 minutes. Avoid using ice.
  • Use antibiotic ointment and cover with a clean bandage. Don't use ointment if the burn is weeping fluids or has a scab.
  • Use a 0.5% hydrocortisone cream to soothe and help stop itching.
  • As the burn heals, use cool cloths and take frequent cool showers or baths.

Don't put ice on any burn. It doesn't help.

When should I see a doctor for my burn?

For severe burns, you should always see a doctor right away.

  • Cover the burn with a clean, wet cloth.
  • Don't put salve or ice on the burn.
  • Head to your appointment or the ER.

How to treat bites and stings

Dog and cat bites are the most common animal bites in the U.S.

But wild animals and exotic pets can also cause bite injuries and may even give you rabies.

Animals most likely to have rabies include:

  • Bats.
  • Raccoons.
  • Skunks.
  • Foxes.
  • Coyotes.

When should I see a doctor about a bite or sting?

Unless the bites are severe or there's a rabies concern, you can treat most bites at home.

Seek medical care if your bite is from a cat or human. These can often lead to infection.

Call your doctor if the bite seems severe or there's a concern about disease.

Otherwise, you can care for bites and stings in the same way you do other wounds.

Make sure to:

  • Stop the bleeding.
  • Clean the bite or sting thoroughly
  • Watch for signs of infection.

As for bites and stings from insects, the biggest concerns are:

  • Insects that carry disease, like mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Bites from poisonous spiders, such as the brown recluse and black widow.
  • Allergic reactions from bites and stings. People with known allergies to bees should always have an EpiPen® with them.

Call 911 after a bite or sting if you have symptoms like:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing.
  • Facial swelling.
  • Chest tightness.

For poisonous spider bites, call 911 or the Poison Center Hotline, especially if you notice:

  • Increased pain and swelling in the area.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Stomach pain and nausea.
  • Trouble breathing.

If your bite isn't an emergency, but is causing you concern, it's a good idea to see a doctor.

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When Should I Get a Tetanus Shot for a Cut, Bite or Sting?

When you come for an office visit for one of these minor injuries, we may give you a tetanus shot.

You should get a shot if:

  • The object that caused your wound was clean but your last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago.
  • The object that caused your wound was dirty and your last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago.
  • You aren't sure when your last tetanus shot was.
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Last reviewed by Susan Marchezak, CRNP on 2024-04-17.