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How Can I Tell if a Cut is Infected?

Signs of infection include swelling at the site of the cut or abrasion.
If you suspect a cut is infected, see a doctor who can prescribe antibiotics or medicated creams.
A doctor should be consulted to treat an advanced infection.
Proper first aid and immediate medical treatment is extremely important to prevent infections that can lead to more serious problems.
Antibiotic ointment should be applied to a cut that may be infected.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2014
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Several clues can indicate that a cut is infected or at increased risk of infection. While it is possible to treat a minor infected cut at home, people should seek medical attention for unusually deep or painful cuts, or if the infection does not resolve within several days. Prolonged lack of treatment can cause septicemia, a complication of infection which can potentially kill.

One of the most obvious signs that a cut is infected is inflammation, characterized by swelling and heat around the cut. The inflammation may also cause the tissue around the cut to change color: it can appear reddened or blanched. If the skin turns greenish, blackish, or blue, it is a sign of a very serious infection accompanied by tissue death, and it needs medical attention immediately.

Infected cuts are also often painful and tender to the touch. The surrounding area may also feel painful or hard. While some discharge from a cut is normal, thick, smelly, or strangely colored discharges indicate that an infection may be active in the wound. Likewise, if a cut keeps breaking open and bleeding, this can indicate that the body's normal healing process has been interrupted by infection.

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Home treatment of an infected cut includes gentle washing with antibacterial soap and warm water several times a day, and the use of antibiotic creams and ointments. Some people also find that it helps to apply hot poultices such as a washcloth dipped in very hot water and then wrung out to the wound. Allowing plenty of air to circulate across the cut can also be beneficial, although large and deep cuts should be bandaged.

If red stripes start to radiate out from an infected cut, the patient should seek medical attention immediately. If the infection fails to resolve within a few days, or gets worse, a doctor should be consulted, as he or she can provide stronger medications and more in-depth treatments, including debridement of the cut to remove debris which may be trapped inside. An altered level of consciousness, fever, or headache can be a sign that the infection is spreading and that it may have reached a dangerous state.

Even a minor abrasion can become seriously infected if it is not properly cleaned and cared for at the time that the cut occurred. Caring for cuts properly when they happen and keeping them clean can greatly reduce the risk of developing a severe infection.

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anon966174
Post 16

My lower leg was cut by my dog's retractable lead as she ran past. It took off a few layers of skin and is starting to scab over. The skin around it today looks blue but it is cold in the office so I'm guessing it's that. I've been on antibiotics for a week, and a swab was taken but no infection found but told to finish tablets which I have now. I'll keep an eye on it but for now, I'll put it down to it being cold.

anon342472
Post 14

@anon158711: It's defiantly infected. I got hit by a semi and had to have a lot of stitches but in my hand. I think they might have become infected. That could also be moisture from the bones around it because they are bruised. They show a little redness which could have been just because of the scrape around them, and they are tender but the bones around are bruised.

anon320339
Post 12

I had a cut two years ago and now the area has become hard and itches sometimes. It's a round shape and looks like a button.

anon311638
Post 11

I have a cut and it looks like it's healing well, but it's on the sole of my foot and it hurts. Does it hurt because I'm walking on it or because it's infected? The cut is dry with a little scab. I can still walk on my foot but it's sore. I also don't know what caused the cut.

anon309146
Post 10

I cut my leg a few days ago, but I went to the ER to get stitches a few days later, but got turned away due to an old wound. It has gone white with water-like fluids seeping, the cut is red on the edges and a little sore to touch. Is this normal?

anon292259
Post 9

I got a cut on my leg and it's got a big red circle around it and it looks kind of like its got a bit of pus in it and I've covered it. I don't know if it's really bad because of the circle of red around. How should I treat this, please? I'm worried. I'm only 13.

anon166339
Post 8

I've cut my leg and this gooey stuff is coming out of the cut.

anon158711
Post 7

I've cut my arm and its sometimes this watery stuff comes out of it. what is it and is it normal?

anon144790
Post 5

i have a question. i cut my foot on glass two nights ago and today it is tender/really sore to walk on. it has a slight red line coming up towards my leg. i have nausea and headaches so bad. i feel sick, sick, sick. should i get a doctor because the red line is slight.

PelesTears
Post 4

@ Cary- It is best to let a cut breath as much as possible. The cut will heal faster, preventing scarring, and minimizing the amount of time that it is prone to infection. A scab protects a wound from infection well (it’s a natural bandage), but they take longer to form if the air cannot dry the wound out. Just be sure to keep the wound as clean as possible.

If you keep a wound covered up too long, it prevents the scab from forming, so you can end up with a wound that stays open longer. In addition, if you do not change the bandage, the wound may be even more likely to become infected. If bacteria becomes trapped underneath the bandages, than they have a perfect breeding ground. An area completely covered will be warmer, and moist, exactly what bacteria want.

Babalaas
Post 3

In survival situations, it is good to know what can prevent infections. Three common plants found almost everywhere in the United States can be used to make antiseptics.

Common or greater Plantain (Plantago major) is a broad leaf weed that grows in most ditches and along side roads. If you wash a few leaves and stems, then chew them to a pulp, you can press the pulp to the wound to prevent infection. If you have the time or resources, heat the pulped plantain with a tablespoon of water or saliva and use it as a compress on the wound. Keep the pulp pressed to the wound for at least five minutes.

Burdock root is also a powerful remedy. The plant is a common thistle found in many parts of the country. Boil the chopped root with a little water and use it as a disinfectant. Make it as strong as possible, boiling for at least 5-7 minutes.

Finally, Birch leaves can be used the same as Burdock. Crush the birch leaves and make an infusion by boiling in water. Use this concoction as a multipurpose disinfectant.

cary
Post 1

Although I think cuts seem like they heal faster when they are not bandaged, wouldn't leaving a cut exposed to the air make it more likely to become infected? It seems like an unbandaged cut would be more likely to come into contact with bacteria and dirt. I always use an antibacterial ointment and cover any cut.

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