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How to treat common childhood injuries

A guide to caring for scrapes, cuts, bumps and burns.

Bumps and bruises. Cuts and scrapes.

These are the stuff of childhood, the tolls paid when tots learn to crawl and reach.

Fortunately, your little one's reaction to being hurt will probably be far worse than the wound itself.

Your job, of course, is to remain calm as you assess the damage. In the vast majority of cases, you won't have to call the doctor. You'll be able to treat the injury yourself using the guidelines below.

If you're not sure about the severity of the injury, however, get medical help.

Scrapes

Scrapes are the most common of minor childhood injuries, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

As the name implies, a scrape peels off the outer layers of skin. Scrapes can look terrible, but they aren't usually bloody.

To treat a scrape, the AAP recommends that you:

  • Rinse the area with cool water to flush out debris.
  • Wash the wound gently with warm water and soap.
  • Avoid using iodine, alcohol or other antiseptics.

Treat large scrapes with antibiotic ointment, and then cover them with bandages or gauze pads.

The AAP recommends that you call your doctor if the wound:

  • Is too difficult for you to clean.
  • Develops pus.
  • Becomes more red or tender.

Cuts

Cuts break through the skin, and so they can be more problematic than scrapes.

They can be bloodier, for one thing. They can also lead to infection, notes the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). And a deep cut can damage nerves or tendons.

To treat a cut, the AAP recommends laying a clean cloth or gauze on the wound. Apply pressure for about 10 minutes to stop bleeding.

Minor cuts—those that are short and have edges that easily meet—can be treated at home. Wash the site with plain water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover with a bandage.

The AAP and ACEP recommend that you call your doctor if:

  • Bleeding doesn't stop, or restarts after five minutes.
  • The cut is deep or more than half an inch long.
  • Swelling, redness or pus develops.
  • The skin is badly torn.

Bumps on the head

It can be hard to judge the seriousness of a bump to the head.

If your tot is alert and responds normally afterward, the injury is probably mild, according to the AAP.

You can bring swelling down by applying a cold compress to the area for about 20 minutes.

Keep a close eye on your child after a head bump. According to the AAP, you should call your doctor if you think your tot's head took a serious thumping, or if your child:

  • Loses consciousness.
  • Vomits several times.
  • Complains of worsening head pain.
  • Becomes dizzy, confused or irritable.
  • Has problems waking up.

Burns

Burns can be caused by any number of things, from the sun's rays to hot water to fire.

First-degree burns can cause redness and mild swelling. Second-degree burns can raise blisters. Third-degree burns can char skin and cause serious damage.

The right treatment for a burn depends on how serious it is, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

To treat a minor burn:

  • Immediately cool the area by soaking or rinsing it in cool water. Do not use ice.
  • Cover the wound with a clean gauze pad.
  • Do not apply butter, grease or powder.

According to the AAP, you should seek medical attention for anything more than a superficial burn. The AAP also suggests getting medical help if:

  • The burn is oozing.
  • The burn was caused by electricity or a chemical.
  • Your child's hands, mouth or genitals are burned.
  • Redness or pain continues for more than a few hours.

Err on the side of safety

Anytime you're in doubt about your child's health, call his or her healthcare provider. Never hesitate to get help if you think your child has a serious injury.

reviewed 8/18/2019

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