Learn the differences between abrasions, lacerations, and puncture wounds, plus how to treat each at home.

By Family Circle Editors
Photo by Peter Ardito

Technical Terms

Abrasion: Doctor-speak for a scrape. These wounds typically aren’t very deep, but they should still be cleaned thoroughly. 

Laceration: A linear incision, like if you knick your finger when slicing tomatoes. These cuts can bleed a lot, so apply pressure quickly.

Puncture: A wound that looks like a small hole and is caused by something like stepping on a sharp rock. Punctures can be deeper than they appear, so it’s a good idea to call your doc.

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Bruising 101

When you bump your knee on the corner of your dresser (ouch!), small blood vessels can break open underneath your skin, forming a bruise. When it first appears, the bruise will likely be deep red or blue, then fade to green and finally yellow before disappearing. This can take up to two weeks, depending on its size. A hematoma—a bump under the bruise—may also pop up and should shrink as the bruise heals.

Source: Dana Angelini, MD, physician, hematology and medical oncology, at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio

How to Clean a Cut or Scrape

  1. Apply pressure using a clean cloth until the wound stops bleeding. If the wound is still bleeding excessively after 10 minutes, head to urgent care.
  2. Once it stops bleeding, clean the cut with warm, soapy water. Remove any debris.
  3. Pat dry or let wound air-dry, so you don’t reopen it.
  4. Apply antibacterial ointment to the cut, then cover with a bandage. 

Source: Christopher Tookey, MD, physician at the Mayo Clinic’s Family Health Clinic in La Cross, WI

See a Doctor

If your bruise is:  

  • Recurring, unexplained and larger than a quarter
  • Accompanied by excessive bleeding in other areas of your body (like heavier menstrual periods or nose bleeds)

If your cut is: 

  • Large, deep and bleeding excessively after you apply pressure (it’s likely you’ll need stitches)
  • Bright red, hot and accompanied by a fever
  • Becoming more painful and accompanied by crusty or yellow drainage 

Ease the Pain

If your bruise is tender, pop a Tylenol (acetaminophen), since aspirin and ibuprofen can thin the blood and make it worse. To speed up healing, try an arnica cream (Boiron Arnicare Gel, $13) or vitamin K cream (Swanson Vitamin K Cream with Menaquinone-7, $13).

Scar Patrol

No matter how diligent you are, your cut could still result in a scar, especially if it’s on a joint. Treat it early to have a better chance of reducing scarring. Once the wound has healed, try ScarAway Silicone Scar Sheets ($10). “Silicone sheets are inexpensive and proven to reduce scars,” says Michelle Henry, MD, with Weill Cornell Medicine in NYC. “Sun exposure will darken scars, so SPF is a must as well.”

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