What is an abrasion?

An abrasion is a type of open wound that’s caused by the skin rubbing against a rough surface. It may be called a scrape or a graze. When an abrasion is caused by the skin sliding across hard ground, it may be called road rash.

Abrasions are very common injuries. They can range from mild to severe. Abrasions are most likely to occur on the:

  • elbows
  • knees
  • shins
  • ankles
  • upper extremities

Abrasions can be painful, since they sometimes expose many of the skin’s nerve endings. However, they don’t typically cause much bleeding. Most abrasions can be treated at home.

Abrasions aren’t usually as serious as laceration or incision wounds. These are cuts that typically affect deeper skin layers. They may cause intense bleeding and require medical care.

Different grades of abrasions and their symptoms

Abrasions can range from mild to severe. Most abrasions are mild and can easily be tended to at home. Some abrasions, however, may require medical treatment.

First-degree abrasion

A first-degree abrasion involves superficial damage to the epidermis. The epidermis is the first, or most superficial, layer of skin. A first-degree abrasion is considered mild. It won’t bleed.

First-degree abrasions are sometimes called scrapes or grazes.

Second-degree abrasion

A second-degree abrasion results in damage to the epidermis as well as the dermis. The dermis is the second layer of skin, just below the epidermis. A second-degree abrasion may bleed mildly.

Third-degree abrasion

A third-degree abrasion is a severe abrasion. It’s also known as an avulsion wound. It involves friction and tearing of the skin to the layer of tissue deeper than the dermis. An avulsion may bleed heavily and require more intense medical care.

Treating an abrasion at home

A first- or second-degree abrasion can usually be treated at home. To care for an abrasion:

  1. Begin with washed hands.
  2. Gently clean the area with cool to lukewarm water and mild soap. Remove dirt or other particles from the wound using sterilized tweezers.
  3. For a mild scrape that’s not bleeding, leave the wound uncovered.
  4. If the wound is bleeding, use a clean cloth or bandage, and apply gentle pressure to the area to stop any bleeding. Elevating the area can also help stop bleeding.
  5. Cover a wound that bled with a thin layer of topical antibiotic ointment, like Bacitracin, or a sterile moisture barrier ointment, like Aquaphor. Cover it with a clean bandage or gauze. Gently clean the wound and change the ointment and bandage once per day.
  6. Watch the area for signs of infection, like pain or redness and swelling. See your doctor if you suspect infection.

Are there complications?

Most mild abrasions will heal quickly, but some deeper abrasions may lead to infection or scarring.

It’s important to treat the wound right away to reduce your risk for scarring. Make sure to keep the wound clean. Avoid picking at the affected area as it heals.

One of the most serious side effects of any open wound is infection. See your doctor if you suspect an infection. Signs of infection include:

  • a wound that won’t heal
  • painful, irritated skin
  • foul-smelling discharge from the wound
  • green, yellow, or brown pus
  • a fever that lasts longer than four hours
  • a hard, painful lump in your armpit or groin area

When should you see a doctor?

First- or second-degree abrasions don’t usually require a trip to the doctor. Seek immediate medical care for a third-degree abrasion, however. Also see a doctor immediately if:

  • bleeding doesn’t stop after at least five minutes of pressure
  • bleeding is severe, or profuse
  • a violent or traumatic accident caused the wound

See a doctor immediately if you suspect your wound has become infected. Infections that are left untreated can spread and lead to much more serious medical conditions.

Your doctor will be able to clean and bandage the wound. They can also prescribe oral or topical antibiotic therapy to treat the infection. In extreme cases, surgical removal of the skin and adjacent area may be necessary.

What’s recovery like?

Most abrasions often heal quickly with no scarring or infection. Properly treating the abrasion as soon as it happens will help prevent scarring or infection from occurring.

During healing, a crust-like scab will form over the wound. This scab is a natural part of the healing process. Don’t pick at the scab. It’ll fall off on its own.

What’s the outlook?

Abrasions are very common injuries that most people will experience more than once in their lifetime. Most abrasions are mild and can be treated at home. Awareness of the severity of the wound and proper care can help prevent scarring, infection, and further injury.