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Your Health

Cuts, scrapes and bites: When to take your child to the doctor

Each year, more than 200,000 children are treated in emergency departments for playground injuries, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

When a child suffers a minor injury, such as a cut, scrape or bite, parents must determine whether the child needs medical attention.

Most wounds, regardless of depth, will bleed. Areas of the body that receive a large amount of blood flow, such as the face and scalp, will often bleed profusely. It is important to remain calm and apply pressure to the wound. In many cases, these injuries are minor, and the pressure will stop the bleeding. If direct pressure does not stop the bleeding within five to 10 minutes, the child should be taken immediately to the nearest emergency room.

An abrasion or superficial cut does not require stitches and usually heals well with minimal scarring. The most common complication is infection. It is important to wash all cuts and scrapes thoroughly with soap and water. The wound should be kept dry for the next 24 hours to help it heal. Bandages and antibiotic ointments are unnecessary and have not been proven to prevent infection. Signs of infection include a spreading redness on the skin, any cloudy or thick drainage from the wound or pain at the wound site. If any of these symptoms are present, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.

Urgent care centers and emergency rooms attend to lacerations that require simple stitches or gluing. If the wound pulls apart, it most likely requires stitches. Stitches minimize the potential scar by bringing the skin together. A nonstitched wound will have a wide scar, while a stitched wound will have a thin scar that is often barely visible. If it is unclear whether or not a wound requires stitches, a health-care provider should assess the child within six hours of the injury before the wound begins to heal.

Puncture wounds and animal bites require immediate cleaning with soap and water and, in most cases, should be evaluated by a physician. Deep punctures or bites are much more likely to become seriously infected by bacteria.

Finally, in the case of any childhood injury, parents should ensure that their child's tetanus shots are up to date. With this and the above information in hand, parents can be as prepared as possible when their children get the inevitable cuts, scrapes and bites.

Dr. Lauren Brave is a pediatric urgent care physician at the Palo Alto Clinic of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Arian Dasmalchi provided information for this article.

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