The No-Panic Guide to Treating Your Kid's Cuts and Bruises

Follow these expert tips to help your little one's bumps and scrapes feel better fast!

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Bumps and bruises are a normal part of childhood, and, fortunately, most injuries are minor and require only a little attention. But sometimes, knowing what kind of at-home care to provide can be tricky: Should you keep a cut covered or expose it to air? Does a bruise do better with heat or ice? 

Treating the ouchies right the first time is important because it can speed up healing and, in the case of cuts, prevent infection and decrease scarring, explains Diane Madfes, M.D., a New York City board certified dermatologist and member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Follow these tips to help heal your kid's minor boo-boos quickly.

Cuts

  1. Suds up. Before you start tending to a cut, wash your hands with soap and water. Lathering up prevents the chance of introducing germs into the wound.
  2. Apply pressure. With minor cuts and scrapes, the bleeding usually stops on its own. If it doesn't, gently apply firm direct pressure, using a gauze pad or clean towel over the cut until the bleeding stops.
  3. Clean the cut. Rinse the cut under cool running water for about a minute to remove any foreign debris, like gravel, grass or dirt, says Dr. Madfes. If there are still visible fragments–and they aren't embedded in the wound–remove them with a pair of tweezers that have been disinfected with rubbing alcohol or boiling water. Next, gently wash the area around the cut with a mild soap and cool water. (Avoid getting soap directly in the wound—it can sting!) Finally, resist the urge to follow up with hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or rubbing alcohol—they can irritate the exposed tissue and interfere with the healing process, says Danelle Fisher, M.D., vice chair of Pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Instead, just gently pat the area dry.
  4. Rub on ointment. Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment—or, in a pinch, petroleum jelly—to the injury to protect against infection and keep the area moist, says Dr. Madfes. Hold off on essential oils, coconut oil, or vitamin E until a scab forms, since these oils may not be sterile, adds Alan Meltzer, M.D., director of the division of general pediatrics at Goryeb Children's Hospital, in Morristown, New Jersey. 
  5. Cover it. Put a bandage over the cut, and change it once a day or whenever it gets wet or dirty. Word to the wise: Any time you're replacing a bandage, you'll need to re-wash the cut and reapply antibiotic ointment first. Count on doing this for the first three or four days after the injury, says Dr. Meltzer. Then, once a scab starts to form, you can expose it to air.

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  6. Leave the scab alone. We know, we know, this is a tough one. But try your best to keep your kid from picking at the scab. It's best to keep the wound covered. Opening the wound too soon puts it at risk for infection and slows down the healing process, Dr. Madfes warns. 
  7. Protect the skin. Newly formed skin is more vulnerable to sunburns, which can lead to noticeable darkening or scarring. Before your little one heads outside, be sure to cover the affected area with clothing, sunscreen or a bandage. 
  8. Contact the doctor if:

  • the injury is large, deep, gaping, actively spurting blood, or bleeding after 10 minutes of direct pressure.
  • the cut is on or near a sensitive area, such as the face or by the eye.
  • you see signs of infection, like swelling, increasing tenderness or redness, warmth, or oozing pus.
  • the cut is difficult to clean (for example, it has a lot of dirt particles or shards of glass).
  • there's something stuck in the wound.
  • the cut was caused by a metal object or something that was dirty or rusty (your child may need a tetanus shot).
  • the injury is the result of an animal or human bite.
  • the injured area loses feeling and becomes numb

Bruises

  1. Put it on ice. As soon as your child has an injury that you think will later turn black and blue, grab some ice or an ice pack. Wrap it in a clean towel (never put ice directly on the skin), and place it on the area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times during the first 24 hours. "Ice helps decrease the inflammation from the injury and helps relieve pain by numbing the area," says Dr. Fisher.
  2. Keep it high. Have your kiddo raise the damaged area above her heart, if possible. For example, if she was hit on the shin by a ball, have her lie down and prop the leg up with pillows. Elevating the injury minimizes the bruising and swelling by preventing blood from pooling in the area.
  3. Turn up the heat. After 48 hours, apply a heating pad or a warm, wet washcloth to the injury for 10 minutes, three times a day. This will help increase the circulation to the healing area and ease any discomfort, Dr. Fisher says. Caveat: Make sure the heat isn't too intense, and never leave your child alone with a heating pad.
  4. Rest up. Your child should take it easy until the contusion (a fancy word for a bruise) has healed. Don't allow him to overwork the area or do anything else that could put him at risk for another injury.
  5. Control the pain. Bruises aren't just ugly—they can be painful, too. If your child is uncomfortable, you can give her the recommended dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol). 
  6. Block out the sun. UV rays can slow down healing, so if possible, cover bruises with clothing or a bandage before your child goes outside. Sunscreen is also a must: Look for a broad-spectrum one that has an SPF of at least 15 and contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which block against UVA and UVB rays, says Dr. Madfes. Apply sunscreen daily, even after the bruise heals.
  7. Contact the doctor if:

  • bruising is unexplained and not from an injury.
  • bruising doesn't fade or disappear within two weeks.
  • bruises are very large following a minor injury.
  • the bruise is the result of a traumatic accident, like a fall down stairs.

Baby Care Basics: Baby First Aid