A cut is a damaged area of skin that usually results from some form of trauma. A cut can appear anywhere on the body.

When germs get into the sensitive tissues beneath our skin via the cut, the cut may become infected. An infection can develop any time between two or three days after the cut occurred until it’s visibly healed.

Read on to learn how to identify an infected cut, and what you can do to treat and prevent this condition.

An uninfected cut will gradually improve until it’s fully healed, while an infected cut becomes more painful over time.

The skin that surrounds the cut is often red and may feel hot. You’ll likely notice some swelling in the affected area. As the infection progresses, it may begin to ooze a yellowy substance called pus.

Seek immediate medical attention if you have these signs of infection:

  • Redness from the infection spreads to other areas, often in streaks.
  • You have aches and pains or a fever.
  • You feel a general sense of malaise.

These symptoms indicate that the infection has spread.

If you’ve only just begun to notice that your cut is looking a little red around the edges, you may be able to treat it at home.

Make sure you’ve washed your wound with soap and water, removing any visible debris. Antiseptic solutions such as hydrogen peroxide may be used the first day, but not more than once. After the wound has been cleaned, dry it and keep it covered with antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, and a bandage until new skin has developed over the wound.

If the redness continues to spread or the cut begins to ooze pus, seek medical attention.

Don’t try to treat signs of infection in a large cut at home. Instead, see your doctor immediately for treatment.

If your infected cut is not clearing up at home, then you may need antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Some commonly prescribed antibiotics include:

  • amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin, Augmentin-Duo)
  • cephalexin (Keflex)
  • doxycycline (Doryx)
  • dicloxacillin
  • trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra)
  • clindamycin (Cleocin)

The doctor will also clean your cut and apply an appropriate dressing. They may use a topical numbing agent before cleaning it to reduce pain.

If an infected cut is not treated promptly, the infection will begin to spread into the deeper tissues under the skin. This is called cellulitis. The infection can travel through your blood to other parts of your body. Once the infection spreads, you will begin to feel generally unwell and develop a fever.

Cellulitis can develop into a severe infection called sepsis. It’s also possible that an infected cut will never heal properly. It can lead to skin infections such as impetigo, and it can also become an abscess.

In extremely rare cases, an untreated infected cut can develop into necrotising fasciitis. This is more commonly known as the “flesh-eating disease.” It leaves large areas of the skin damaged and painful.

There are some circumstances that increase your risk of developing an infected cut, such as:

  • having type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • having a weakened immune system, which could be due to taking steroids, having chemotherapy, or contracting an autoimmune disease such as HIV
  • being bitten by an animal or human
  • being cut by a dirty object
  • having a piece of whatever caused the cut remaining inside the wound
  • having a cut that’s large and deep
  • having a jagged-edged cut
  • being an older adult (as skin doesn’t heal as well as people age)
  • being overweight

Clean the area immediately after you’ve been injured. Use alcohol wipes if clean water is unavailable.

Once you’ve cleaned the area, wait for it to dry, and then apply an antiseptic or antibiotic cream to help keep germs away. Cover the area with a clean dressing to further protect the cut.

Be sure to choose a suitable dressing. Use one that won’t stick to the cut. If you’re unsure about which type of dressing to use, you can ask your pharmacist.

Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • you suspect there may be a foreign body inside your cut
  • you can’t stop the bleeding
  • the cut is very large
  • the wound is caused by an animal or human bite

Monitor your cut closely so that you notice if there is the slightest sign of infection. The earlier an infection is caught, the more quickly and easily it can be treated.