Cuts and Scratches
Cuts are wounds that break through the skin, and sometimes reach the underlying tissue. Scratches are usually superficial wounds where the skin is scraped by a sharp object.
The skin is a barrier between the environment and the rest of the body. Usually it offers protection from the invasion of infective organisms. If the skin is broken by cutting or scratching, there is an increased possibility of infection, along with pain and blood loss. Most cuts and scratches are relatively minor and respond well to home remedies. Deep cuts may require medical help and repairing the skin with stitches to heal properly.
Causes & symptoms
A cut or scratch is often due to an accidental injury or intentional violence. Age-related changes may be a contributing factor, because the skin becomes more thin and fragile with age, and thus, more susceptible to cuts and scratches. Infection is a primary concern in dealing with cuts and scratches. Signs of infection include redness, pain or tenderness, local swelling, warmth, a discharge from the wound site, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and red streaks spreading out from the wound site.
Minor cuts and scratches do not usually require diagnosis. However, if an infection sets in, the wound may need to be assessed by a healthcare provider taking a history of the injury and performing a physical exam.
Homeopathic topical preparations can be useful in treating cuts and scratches. Calendulaand Hypericum perforatum are herbs that can be applied topically as a cream, gel, or ointment. Hypericum 30c can be taken internally, as well. It is particularly indicated if the cut is very painful. Staphysagria 30c is indicated for deep cuts and stab wounds. Aconite 30c may be given every 30 minutes for up to three to five doses if a person is very anxious as well as injured.
Ayurvedic medicine recommends several simple applications for minor cuts and scratches. These include fresh aloe vera gel, plain ghee, and coconut oil. Licorice (Glycirrhiza glabra) and turmeric (Curcuma longa) can
be added to any of these to make a paste that will help the skin heal.
Western herbal remedies that promote the healing of cuts and scratches include a strong tea made from Calendula officinale flowers, which can be used as a soak or a wash for wounds; distilled witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) which may also stop bleeding; goldenseal (Hydrastis canadesis) powder or salve, a specific for skin healing; a poultice of crushed plantain leaves (Plantago spp.); and comfrey root salve (Symphytum officinale). Raw honey can also be directly applied to help disinfect superficial wounds and to promote healing. Echinacea spp. tincture can also be used as a disinfectant or antimicrobial to the affected site. The alcohol in the tincture may cause the wound to sting. Topical applications should not be used on a deep wound until some initial healing has occurred.
According to aromatherapy, a spray of diluted essential oils can be used as an antiseptic. They may also repair skin damage and encourage new cell growth. Tea tree, lavender, myrrh, benzoin, bergamot, chamomile, tea tree, eucalyptus, juniper, rosemary, helichrysum, eucalyptus, rose geranium, and sandalwood are all appropriate to use on cuts and scratches. About 10 drops of the full-strength oil should be added, singularly or blended, to two ounces of distilled water and one half ounce of goldenseal tincture or alcohol. The essential oil mixture should be shaken well before each use, and it can then be sprayed on two or three times per day.
Vitamins E and A are necessary for the skin to heal well and quickly. These vitamin oils can be squeezed directly from their capsules onto the affected areas several times per day. They can be taken orally, as well, along with a multivitamin containing vitamins A, C, E, and B complex. Healing following an injury is also speeded up by supple-mentation with the amino acids arginine and glycine.
Bromelain, the digestive enzyme from pineapple, can be taken between meals as needed to reduce inflammation.
Most cuts and scratches are minor and can be handled at home. A physician should be consulted if:
- The cut is very large or deep.
- There is uncontrolled bleeding.
- There is damage to muscles, nerves, or other deep tissues.
- The wound edges are very jagged or do not seem to join together for healing.
- The wound site is very dirty or contains difficult-to-remove foreign material, such as gravel.
- There is weakness or numbness below the injury.
- The cut is on the face, chest, fingers, genitals, back, stomach, palm of the hand, or over a joint.
- There are signs of infection.
- The lymph nodes become swollen.
- The injured person has a history of diabetes, poor circulation, mitral valve prolapse, an artificial heart valve, or an artificial hip.
A cut or scratch should be washed with a mild soap and water. Tweezers that have been disinfected by washing in hot, soapy water and soaking in rubbing alcohol can be used to remove any dirt, glass, or gravel remaining in the wound. Pressure can be applied directly to wound with clean gauze pad until bleeding has stopped. The wound can be protected while it heals by covering it with an adhesive bandage. The use of an antibiotic or antiseptic ointment is optional. The use of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are not recommended for minor cuts and scratches, as they can cause irritation of the wound.
Aspirin, acetaminophen, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or ketoprofen can be taken to reduce pain. If there is a lot of bleeding, however, aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided because they may interfere with blood clotting. Keeping the edges of the wound together can help keep dirt out, speeds healing, and decreases scarring. Stitches are helpful in this regard, but they, too, can cause scarring. Butterfly bandages or steri-strips may also be used to keep the wound closed. If a cut is more than 0.5 in (1.25 cm) deep, stitches will usually be needed.
Most cuts and scratches are superficial, and heal within a few days. Sometimes keloids form, and these painless scars become gradually less prominent and visible over a period of months to years. Deep cuts may result in permanent decrease in function. Serious damage may also result if an infected wound is left untreated.
It is especially easy to get cuts and scratches while working outdoors. Protective clothing and gloves are therefore recommended for any kind of manual labor outside the house. Using a moisturizer on the skin ensures that it will not become dried out. Dry skin is much more susceptible to cuts, scratches, and cracking than moist skin. Care should be taken to avoid accidents in the home. The safety of problem areas should be addressed. For example, hardwood floors and stairs are often slippery, as are loose rugs and broken steps or floorboards. Also, the shower can be a major site of home injuries. Furniture may have to be moved if there are repeated accidents. Overexposure to the sun's rays should be avoided, as it is a major cause of fragile skin leading to injury. In addition, a tetanus booster shot is recommended every 10 years.
Dollemore, Doug and Prevention Health Books for Seniors Staff. The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Seniors. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, Inc., 2000.
Kirchheimer, Sid and Prevention Magazine Health Book Editors. The Doctors Book of Home Remedies II: Over 1,200 New Doctor-Tested Tips and Techniques Anyone Can Use to Heal Hundreds of Everyday Health Problems. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, Inc., 1993.
Alternative Medicine.com. http://www.alternativemedicine.com