Signs Your Cut Is Infected

August 30, 2018
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Human skin is a surprisingly flexible, resilient organ. It is also the part of us that most interacts with our external environment and acts as the first line of defense against a wide array of potential threats. Although it is thin enough and sensitive enough to allow us to detect the lightest of touches, it is also strong enough to protect us from the elements. But like any other part of our bodies, our skin can become damaged. After receiving a cut, for example, germs and bacteria can quickly gain entry and may even lead to infection—and nobody wants that.

The immune system activates almost immediately in response to a cut, nick, or abrasion. Some immune system components work to stop the bleeding, while others rally aggressive defender cells and substances to help fight off invaders. In many cases, the body is able to repair the damage and fend off infection. But sometimes, infection takes hold, the invading bacteria multiply, and the wound is unable to heal properly. If you or someone you know has recently sustained a laceration injury, keep reading to discover what your next steps should be.

How to Tell If a Cut Is Infected

There are a number of red flags that indicate your cut may be infected. Keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

  • The surrounding area turns red and spreads over time
  • The area surrounding the wound becomes swollen, tender to the touch, or painful
  • The wound weeps off-color or odorous fluid; this pus may be yellow, greenish, or cloudy
  • Red streaks spread out from the site of the wound
  • You develop a fever (especially above 100.4° F)
  • Your lymph nodes become enlarged

Wound Care & Prevention

The best way to prevent your cut from becoming infected in the first place is to wash the wound thoroughly right after the injury occurs. Remove any debris that may have become lodged in the wound (scraped knees, for example, almost always contain dirt and grit). Wash with unscented soap and running water, and dry with a clean, preferably sterile cloth (consider using an unopened gauze from the drug store). Be sure to dress the wound lightly with a bandage to prevent further contamination and monitor the progress of healing carefully while watching out for signs of infection (see above).

It should be noted that infection can occur following any break in the skin. This includes common events, such as getting a tattoo, getting a piercing, having stitches, vigorously scratching an itch (to the point of breaking the skin), or being stung or bitten by an insect or other animal.

When to Visit an Urgent Care Center

Urgent care centers can provide timely evaluation and treatment for infected cuts that aren't life-threatening. You should seek urgent care for infected cuts if you experience:

  • Moderate pain, redness, and swelling around the wound site
  • Minor to moderate discharge or drainage from the wound
  • Signs of localized infection without systemic symptoms

When to Visit an Emergency Room

If your laceration is deep, your symptoms worsen over time, or you begin to experience a fever, it’s best to visit your nearest emergency room as soon as possible. The following signs warrant a swift visit to the ER:

  • Deep or gaping wounds that won't stop bleeding with direct pressure
  • Wounds caused by animal bites, puncture wounds, or rusty objects, increasing the risk of tetanus or rabies
  • Signs of severe infection, such as high fever, rapid heartbeat, or difficulty breathing
  • Loss of sensation or function in the affected area

When to Visit Your Primary Care Physician

For ongoing care and management of less severe infections, consider contacting your primary care physician. Your PCP can assess the wound and prescribe antibiotics or other treatments as needed.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for infected cuts and abrasions depend on the severity of the infection. Here are some common approaches: 

  • Antibiotics – If the infection is mild to moderate, your healthcare provider may prescribe oral or topical antibiotics to help fight the bacterial infection.
  • Wound irrigation – Cleaning the wound thoroughly with saline solution or other antiseptic solutions helps remove debris and bacteria, reducing the risk of further infection.
  • Wound debridement – In cases where the wound is contaminated with dead tissue or foreign material, your healthcare provider may need to remove these substances to promote healing.
  • Topical treatments – Applying topical antiseptic creams or ointments can help prevent infection and promote healing.
  • Dressings – Keeping the wound covered with sterile dressings helps protect it from further contamination and promotes a moist environment conducive to healing.
  • Pain management – Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be recommended to manage pain and discomfort associated with the infected wound.

Will an Infected Cut Heal on Its Own?

In some cases, minor infections in cuts or abrasions may heal on their own without the need for medical intervention. However, it's essential to monitor the wound closely and be aware of signs of worsening infection. If you have any concerns about the wound's healing process, don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical provider as soon as possible.

Turn to Your Local Healthcare Providers

If you or someone you know has an open wound that may be infected, it is important to be evaluated right away to prevent serious complications from occurring. The team at PhysicianOne Urgent Care is available 7 days per week with extended hours at a fraction of the cost of most emergency rooms. Visit one of our locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, or New York today for prompt urgent care for infected cuts. We also offer an integrated 24/7 telehealth service for your convenience.

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I had to take my son in for an ear infection following a sudden change in temperament at daycare. He was inconsolable the entire car ride but when we got there and by the time we left this care facility he was back to his normal happy go lucky little two year old boy. I highly recommend PhysicianOne Urgent Care.
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