Toddler First Aid: Cuts and abrasions

How to treat minor cuts, scrapes and grazes at home - and knowing when to call the doctor

Minor scratches, cuts and grazes become more common as your toddler begins to run around and climb, particularly outside on rough surfaces. While these can hurt and sting, most can be treated at home and will heal in a few days. It may be that your child is most concerned by seeing himself bleed, and so these accidents may take more consoling than a simple bang. Some surface wounds may seem to bleed quite a lot at first, but do stay calm while you inspect the damage and clean up so as not to alarm your child – it’s amazing how much of a lead they can take from your reaction.

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Cleaning and dressing a wound

  • Start off by washing your own hands and / or cleaning them with an antiseptic hand gel if you have one, before cleaning your toddler’s wound
  • Clean up any blood with clean water – warm water is more comfortable for your child.
  • If the cut continues to bleed then you can stem the flow by covering the wound with a clean cloth (a sterile dressing is preferable if you have one), applying pressure and raising the injured part of the body, if possible.
  • Gently remove any bits of debris such as grit and dirt and wash the wound with water or soap and water. You can use an antiseptic wipe as a precaution. You may find cotton wool or tweezers helpful to remove any debris.
  • Your main concern is to prevent possible infection, so once the wound is clean and dry apply a layer of antiseptic ointment.
  • Cover the wound with a clean, breathable plaster large enough not to stick to the cut. Some superficial scrapes and grazes which don’t bleed won’t really need a plaster to keep them clean , but you may find that using one helps your child feel better.
  • Change the plaster at least once a day and whenever it becomes wet or dirty and keep the wound as clean and dry as you can. Check the wound for signs of infection each time you change the plaster and visit your doctor if the wound appears infected (see below). You can dispense with a plaster once the wound has scabbed over as the scab will keep it clean.
  • Don’t let your child fiddle with a wound or pick at a scab, as this increases the likelihood of infection.

Tips and tricks
Keep as bright and breezy as you can while cleaning up your child’s cut, while still giving him plenty of comforting words, cuddles and sympathy. Tell him what you are doing as you go along and emphasize how it will make him feel better. If your toddler is in pain and needs a distraction then you may want to make judicious use of some kind of comforter, whether that’s a chocolate button or a special book or toy.

Some children react well to choosing their own plaster, singing a ‘make-it-better’ song or getting a magic parental kiss. You can get plasters with children-friendly designs on them – a bit of a gimmick, but if it distracts them from the hurt then why not?

When to see the doctor

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  • Deep cuts and cuts that won’t stop bleeding – If a wound is wide or deep and looks as though it may need stitches, or if a cut bleeds profusely or hasn’t stopped bleeding after five to ten minutes of you applying firm pressure to the wound, it’s best to see a doctor. The doctor may treat some quite deep-looking cuts with a simple butterfly bandage, but it’s worth making sure a deeper cuts can damage the nerves, blood vessels and tendons under the skin, or they may leave a scar.
  • Delicate body areas – Deep cuts to the palms of the hands and soles of the feet are more likely to cause tendon damage, and should have medical attention. Likewise cuts to the face that may leave a scar should be seen by a doctor, as should any cut to the genitals.
  • Cuts that won’t close – If a cut gapes open and you can’t draw the edges together with a suitably-sized plaster, or if the cuts is positioned where a toddler’s movements will naturally re-open the cut, a doctor’s help is needed to close the wound.
  • Dirty cuts or cuts on dirty objects – If your toddler cut herself on something rusty or dirty (particularly something dirty with faeces or saliva) he may need a tetanus booster – call your surgery to find out. Likewise if you can’t properly clean the cut and think there may be something trapped inside. If your toddler has cut himself on glass then there may be fragments of glass in the wound that you cannot see, it’s worth getting it checked out..
  • Signs of infection – If your child shows any signs on infection, including increasing redness and swelling, pus seeping from a wound, fever and increasing pain, then it’s important to see your doctor right away.
  • Numbness around the wound – Your toddler may not be able to tell you, but if he seems to be experiencing numbness around the wound then there may be some nerve injury.

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