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Section I–Common Health Problems - Skin Injuries

HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

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 Section I–Common Health Problems

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Skin Injuries

“I burned my hand
pretty bad this year cooking, I dropped the potholder right before
grabbing the oven rack! I put cold water and ice on it. It kept blistering
and burning anyway. I ended up going to the Health Center. The nurse gave
me something to put on the burn. It helped a lot.”

S., Franklin Pierce College

Skin injuries can be as minor as a simple
scrape or as major as a 3rd degree burn. The quicker you treat an injury,
the faster the healing occurs.

Signs, Symptoms &

The signs, symptoms, and causes of skin
injuries vary depending on the type of injury.

– Cuts slice the skin open. This causes bleeding and
pain. Cuts need to be cleaned, closed, and covered with a bandage so
they don’t get infected. Stitches may be needed for cuts that are deep,
are longer than an inch, or are in an area of the body that bends, such
as the elbow or knee. When appropriate, a topical tissue adhesive may be
used instead of stitches to “super glue” the area.

– Scrapes are less serious than
cuts, but more painful because more sensitive nerve endings are

– Punctures are stab
wounds. They can be shallow ones, such as from a splinter or deep ones,
such as from stepping on a nail. Puncture wounds hurt and bleed.

– Bruises are caused by broken
blood vessels that bleed into the tissue under the skin. Common causes
are falls or being hit by some force. A bruise causes black and blue or
red skin. As it heals, the skin turns yellowish-green. Pain or
tenderness and possible swelling also occurs.

– Burns can be caused from dry heat
(fire), moist heat (steam, hot liquids), electricity, chemicals, and the
sun (sunburn).

  • With a 1st degree burn, your skin will
    be red, swollen, painful, and sensitive to touch. This usually heals
    in 1 to 2 days.

  • With a 2nd degree burn, the outer and
    lower skin layers are affected. Your skin will be painful, swollen,
    red, blistered, and/or be weepy/watery.

  • With a 3rd degree burn, your skin will
    be black and white and charred. You will have less pain because the
    nerves have been destroyed.


Animal and Human Bites

The most common of these bites in the United States are from dogs, cats,
and humans. Common symptoms are pain and bleeding. Wounds from animal
and human bites can easily get infected. Rabies can result if the bite
was from a warm-blooded animal who was infected with the rabies virus.


Treatment varies depending on the cause and
how severe the injury is. Simple wounds can be treated with self-care. An
antibiotic is prescribed for an infection.

Questions to Ask

Do the following
signs of shock
occur with an injury?

  • Pale or blue-colored lips, skin,
    and/or fingernails

  • Cool and moist skin

  • Weak, but fast pulse

  • Rapid, shallow breathing

  • Weakness, trembling, restlessness,

  • Difficulty standing or inability to
    stand due to dizziness

  • Loss of consciousness

Does an animal bite cause severe bleeding or
severely mangled skin or has a human bite punctured the skin?


Do any of the following describe the

  • There is severe bleeding or blood
    spurts from the wound. (Apply direct pressure on the wound site while
    seeking care.)

  • Bleeding continues after pressure has
    been applied to the wound for more than 10 minutes or bleeding
    continues after 20 minutes of applied pressure to what seems to be a
    minor cut.

  • A deep cut or puncture appears to go
    down to the muscle or bone and/or is located on the scalp or face.

  • A cut is longer than an inch and is
    located on an area of the body that bends, such as the elbow, knee, or

  • The skin on the edges of the cut hangs

  • A burn (3rd degree) results in charred
    black and white skin, little or no pain, and exposure of tissue under
    the skin.

  • A burn (2nd degree) causes painful,
    swollen, and red skin with blisters that cover more than 10 square
    inches of skin area or is on the face, hands, feet, genitals, or any

Was the bite from a pet that has not been
immunized against rabies or from an animal known to carry rabies in your
area? (Check with your local health department, hospital, or emergency
department if you are not sure.)


A day or two after the skin injury, do
one or more of these signs of an

  • Fever

  • Redness or red streaks that extend
    from the wound site

  • Swelling, increased pain, or
    tenderness at and around the wound site

  • Increased pain

  • General ill feeling

Was the cut or puncture from dirty or contaminated
objects, such as rusty nails or objects in the soil or did a puncture go
through a shoe, especially a rubber-soled one? {Note:
You will need a tetanus shot if you have not had one within 10 years.}


With a skin injury, are any of the
following conditions present?

  • With a second-degree burn, more than
    the outer skin layer has been affected; more than 3 inches in diameter
    of the skin has been burned; or blisters have formed.

  • The burn does not improve after 2

  • Bruises appear often and easily; take
    longer than 2 weeks to go away; or over a year’s time, more than 2 or
    3 bruises appear for no apparent reason.

  • Vision problems occur with a bruise
    near the eye.



For Human Bites
Before Immediate Care:

Wash the wound area with soap and water
for at least 5 minutes, but don’t scrub hard.

Rinse the wound area with running water
or with an antiseptic solution, such as Betadine.

Cover the wound area with sterile gauze,
taping only the ends in place.

All human bites need immediate care.}

For Minor Cuts and

Clean in and around the wound thoroughly
with soap and water.
Press on the cut to stop the bleeding for
up to 10 minutes. Use sterile gauze or a clean cloth. Don’t use dry
gauze. It can stick to the wound. Don’t use a bandage to apply pressure.
If still bleeding, press on the cut again.
Get medical help if it still bleeds after applying pressure for 10 more
minutes. Lift the part of the body with the cut higher than the heart,
if practical.
After the bleeding has stopped, and when
it is clean and dry, apply a first aid cream.
Put one or more bandages on the cut. The
edges of the cut skin should touch, but not overlap. Use a butterfly
bandage if you have one.
For scrapes, make a bandage from gauze and
first aid tape. Leave it on for 24 hours. Change the bandage at least
every day or two. Keep the bandage clean and dry.

For Punctures that
Cause Minor Bleeding:

Let the wound bleed to cleanse itself.
Remove the object that caused the
puncture. Use clean, sterile tweezers. To sterilize them, hold a lit
match or flame to the ends of the tweezers. Let them cool and wipe the
ends with sterile gauze. {Note: Don’t pull anything out of
a puncture wound if blood gushes from it or it has been bleeding badly.
Get emergency care!}
Clean the wound area with warm, soapy
water 2 to 4 times a day for several days. After cleaning it, dry the
wound area well and apply an antibacterial cream.

For Bruises:

Apply a cold pack to the bruised area as
soon as possible and within 15 minutes of the injury. Keep the cold pack
on for 10 minutes at a time. Apply pressure to the cold pack. Take it
off for 30 to 60 minutes. Repeat several times for 2 days.
Rest the bruised area and raise it above
the level of the heart, if practical.
Two days after the injury, use warm
compresses. Do this for 20 minutes at a time.
Do not bandage a bruise.
Try to avoid hitting the bruised area

For First-Degree

Immerse the affected area in cold (not
ice) water until the pain subsides. If the affected area is dirty,
gently wash it with soapy water first.
Keep the area uncovered and elevated, if
possible. Apply a dry dressing, if necessary, to protect the area from
dirt, etc.
Do not use butter or ointments, such as
Vaseline. You can, though, apply aloe vera 3 to 4 times a day.
Don’t use local anesthetic sprays and

For Second-Degree
Burns (that are not extensive and are less than 3" in diameter):

Immerse the affected area in cold (not
ice) water until the pain subsides.
Dip clean cloths in cold water, wring them
out, and apply them to the burned area for as long as an hour. Blot the
area dry. Do not rub.
Don’t use antiseptic sprays or creams.
Do not break any blisters. If the blisters
break on their own, apply an antibacterial spray or ointment and keep
the area wrapped with a sterile dressing.
Once dried, dress the area with a single
layer of loose gauze that does not stick to the skin. Keep it in place
with bandage tape that is placed well away from the burned area.
Change the dressing the next day and every
2 days after that.
Prop the burned area higher than the rest
of the body, if possible.

For Animal Bites:

Wash the bite with soap and warm water for 5
minutes. If the bite is deep, flush with water for 10 minutes. Dry the
wound with a clean towel. Then get immediate care.

If the wound is swollen, apply ice wrapped in a
towel for 10 minutes.

If someone’s pet bit you and you know the
owner, find out if the pet has been vaccinated for rabies.

Report the incident to the animal control or
local health department.

For Information, Contact:

MEDLINEplus® Health Information
Search for “First Aid / Emergencies.”

{Note: For all bites, cuts,
scrapes, punctures, and burns, be sure your tetanus shot is up-to-date. Call
your health care provider or your school’s health service to check.}

6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine
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December 08, 2005