1. Common Health Problems

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.”

– Aimee 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 & Causes

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

  1. Cuts – 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.

  2. Scrapes – Scrapes are less serious than cuts, but hurt more because more sensitive nerve endings are involved

  3. Punctures – 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.

  4. Bruises – 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 occur.

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

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

  7. -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.

  8. -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.

  9. Animal and Human Bites – 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.


For Human Bites Before Immediate Care

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

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

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

{Note: All human bites need immediate care.}

For Minor Cuts and Scrapes

  1. Clean in and around the wound thoroughly with soap and water.

  2. Press on the cut to stop the bleeding for up to 10 minutes. Use sterile, wet gauze or a clean cloth. Dry gauze can stick to the wound. Don’t use a bandage to apply pressure.

  3. 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.

  4. After the bleeding has stopped, and when it is clean and dry, apply a first-aid cream.

  5. 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.

  6. Keep a scrape clean and dry. Dress it with gauze and first-aid tape. Change the bandage every 24 hours.

For Punctures that Cause Minor Bleeding

  1. Let the wound bleed to cleanse itself.

  2. 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!}

  3. Two to 4 times a day, clean the wound area with warm, soapy water. Dry it well and apply an antibacterial cream. Do this for several days.

For Bruises

  1. Apply a cold pack to the bruised area as soon as possible (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.

  2. Rest the bruised area and raise it above the level of the heart, if practical.

  3. Two days after the injury, use warm compresses for 20 minutes at a time.

  4. Do not bandage a bruise.

  5. Try to avoid hitting the bruised area again.

For First-Degree Burns and Second-Degree Burns (that are less than 3” in diameter)

  1. Use cold water or cloths soaked in cold water on burned areas for 15 minutes or until the pain subsides. Do not use ice at all; it could cause frostbite.

  2. Cover the area loosely with a clean dry cloth, such as sterile gauze. Hold it in place by taping only the edges of the gauze. Change the dressing the next day and every 2 days after that.

  3. Don’t use ointments. You can apply aloe vera over closed skin 3 to 4 times a day.

  4. Don’t break blisters. If they break on their own, apply an antibacterial spray or ointment. Or, use the treatment prescribed by your doctor. Keep the area loosely covered with a sterile dressing.

  5. For a severe burn less than 3 inches by 2 inches, use Second Skin Moisture Pads, etc.

  6. Prop the burned area higher than the rest of the body, if you can.

For Dog and Cat Bites

  1. To remove any saliva and other debris, wash the bite area right away with soap and warm water for 5 minutes.  If the bite is deep, flush the wound with water for 10 minutes. Dry the wound with a clean towel. Then get immediate care.

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

  3. A tetanus shot is needed if tetanus immunizations are not up-to-date.

  4. If the bite hurts, take an over-the-counter medicine for pain.

  5. Report the incident to the animal control department.

  6. If you know the pet’s owner, find out the date of the pet’s last rabies vaccination. If its immunizations are not current, arrange with the animal control department for the pet to be observed for the next 10 days to be sure it does not develop rabies.

  7. Observe the wound for a few days, checking it for infection.

{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.}




Questions to Ask

Do the following signs of shock occur with an injury?

  1. Pale or blue-colored lips, skin, and/or fingernails.

  2. Cool and moist skin.

  3. Weak, but fast pulse.

  4. Rapid, shallow breathing.

  5. Weakness, trembling, restlessness, confusion.

  6. Difficulty standing or inability to stand due to dizziness.

  7. Loss of consciousness.

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

Are any of these problems present?

  1. Severe bleeding or blood spurts from the wound. (Apply direct pressure on the wound site while seeking care.)

  2. Bleeding continues after pressure has been applied for more than 10 minutes (or after 20 minutes to what seems to be a minor cut).

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

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

  5. The skin on the edges of the cut hangs open.

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

  7. 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 joint.

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 infection occur?

  1. Fever.

  2. Redness or red streaks that extend from the wound site.

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

  4. Increasing pain.

  5. 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?

  1. 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.

  2. The burn does not improve after 2 days.

  3. 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.

  4. Vision problems occur with a bruise near the eye.