Basic Wound Care

Quiz: Have you ever cleaned a cut or scape with hydrogen peroxide? If you answered yes, then this article is for you!

Family doctors get these questions all the time, especially in South Carolina where we can work outside year-round, so here are some answers to commonly asked questions about wound care. This article doesn’t cover wound care for people who have chronic medical conditions. Those folks, as well as anyone who has questions about their wound should call their doctor (if that is not me!).

How should I clean a wound?

  • You should wash all wounds (cuts, scrapes, scratches) with running water. Cool water is fine. You should be washing out all of the dirt that is in your wound. If you can’t, try a stronger water stream. You can even use soap to clean around the edges of the wound. I don’t recommend soaking a fresh wound.

What shouldn’t I use to clean a wound?

  • Contrary to popular belief (and contrary to the actions of my parents when I was a child), you should not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on open wounds. Using these can slow wound healing by “shocking” the skin.

Should I always use antibiotic ointment?

  • No! Most minor scrapes and scratches will heal just fine without needing any antibiotic help. However, keeping a cut/scrape (on an extremity) moist by using an ointment like Vaseline will usually help the healing process.

How often should I change my bandage?

  • Daily, or if it gets wet or dirty
    ***By the way, you don’t have to use a Band-aid. A sterile piece of gauze with paper tape will work just fine.

Should I cover a wound or leave it open?

  • There is conflicting advice about this, but covering a wound will help to decrease the pain that occurs when a cut dries out. An exception to this is if the area is already moist (like an underarm or groin), in which case, you can use a clean and dry non-stick bandage.

When do I need (or should consider getting) stitches?

  1. When a wound will not stop bleeding
  2. When a wound is deep
  3. When a wound is in a conspicuous location and likely to leave an unsightly scar if it heals on its own

Can I use super glue?

  • The answer is a surprising yes—on SOME wounds (although I recommend buying a new bottle)! Super glue can sometimes be used to close up small wounds, however, the wound needs to be clean. Hardware store super glue is similar to medical grade glue. The difference is that the medical grade formula is less likely to cause skin irritation.

When do I need a tetanus shot?

  1. If it’s been more than 10 years since your last one and you have any type of wound
  2. If you have a wound that needs more attention (stitches) or is dirty AND it has been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot

When should I be concerned about a wound?

  • If it becomes red, hot, swollen, smelly, pus starts to come out of it, or you develop a fever.
  • Itching, while it can be a sign of infection, usually means the wound is starting to heal.

    More wound care tips can be found HERE and HERE.

Melissa Boylan MD, FAAFP
Family Physician and Owner of Noreta Family Medicine