An abrasion is a superficial and shallow wound that occurs on the epidermal layer of the skin.
What is an abrasion?
An abrasion is an open wound caused by the skin coming into contact with a rough surface, rubbing away the upper epidermal layer of the skin. The parts of the body that are more prone to abrasions are thin-skinned bony areas, such as the elbows, knees, ankles, shins, and upper extremities. Sometimes, an abrasion is also called a graze or scrape.
In most cases, abrasions are safely treated and managed at home. They also tend to heal within a few days to one week. However, some abrasions expose numerous nerve endings of the skin, making the wound painful. In spite of the pain, most abrasions do not cause significant bleeding like in the case of incision wounds or lacerations, which are wounds that affect the deeper layers of the skin.
Grades of Abrasion
Mild abrasions can be treated using home remedies, but those that are severe may need medical treatment.
- First-degree abrasion: This degree of abrasion is mild and will not bleed. It usually involves superficial epidermal damage. These abrasions are often called grazes or scrapes. There are no specific treatments required for this type of wound other than cleaning the affected area from any dirt. Falling off a bicycle on a road surface or grazing your arm against a rough surface will result in a first-degree abrasion.
- Second-degree abrasion: Abrasions in this degree may slightly bleed due to epidermal and dermal damage. Treatment involves cleaning the wound and applying a medicated ointment to help prevent an infection. Second-degree abrasions are common in people who play sports. These abrasions may also result from vehicular accidents or falling off a bicycle.
- Third-degree abrasion: Also called an avulsion, a third-degree abrasion is a severe type of abrasion that may significantly bleed. Medical care may be required in this degree of abrasion as it involves skin tearing deeper than the dermal layer of the skin. These wounds are also quite painful due to exposed nerve endings of the skin layers. People who have this type of abrasion are more prone to developing an infection if their wound is not properly cleaned and treated. Scars may also develop after wound healing. High-speed vehicular accidents and falling off a bicycle at high speed can result in a third-degree abrasion.
Treatment of Abrasions
Most minor injuries with mild abrasions can be easily treated at home. When you have an abrasion, the first thing that you should do is to wash your hands with soap and water to avoid spreading a potential infection to the injured area while treating the wound.
1. Clean the abrasion
Clean the abrasion by rinsing it with lukewarm or cool water along with mild soap. You can also use an antibacterial cleanser. Carefully remove any dirt or debris from the wound instead of scrubbing the affected area. Clean the wound thoroughly to avoid developing complications, such as tetanus and other types of infection.
For mild abrasions, strong disinfectants, such as rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and iodine cleanser are usually unnecessary because they can also cause irritation or discomfort to the wound.
2. Apply pressure to bleeding wounds
To help stop the bleeding of scrapes or cuts, apply direct pressure using a sterile bandage, a clean cloth, or a piece of gauze. Continue to apply firm pressure to the affected area for approximately 10-20 minutes and do not unnecessarily lift the bandage to avoid additional bleeding. Apply an additional layer of bandage if blood is seeping through the dressing. If the bleeding does not stop after 10-20 minutes of applying pressure, seek immediate medical attention.
3. Antibiotic ointment application
Applying an antibiotic ointment, such as Bacitracin or Neosporin to the wound can help prevent an infection. These topical medications will not heal the wound faster but will help prevent infection, keep the wound moist, and contribute to the body's healing process.
However, stop using an antibiotic ointment if you notice redness or a rash after its application.
4. Cover the abrasion
To help keep the wound clean and to prevent bacteria from entering the affected area, you can cover it using a piece of gauze with tape or with a bandage. Covering the wound can also keep it from opening again. Change the dressing at least once a day or when it gets dirty or wet.
Do not scratch or pick the scabs to allow complete healing of the skin underneath. Scab formation is the body's natural way of protecting the wound against germs and dirt.
Mild abrasions tend to quickly heal in most cases. However, those who have deeper abrasions have an increased risk of developing an infection. Scarring may also develop after healing. To minimize the risk for scarring, immediate cleaning and treatment of the wound are required. Keep the affected area clean and avoid touching it as it heals.
One serious complication of an open wound is infection. Seek medical help if you have any of the following signs of infection:
- Skin irritation
- A slow-healing wound or a wound that does not improve
- Painful wound
- A fever of more than four hours
- A painful lump in your groin or armpit
- Presence of yellow, green, or brown pus on the affected area
- A foul-smelling discharge from the wound
When to See a Doctor
Most mild abrasion injuries do not require immediate medical attention unless they are very deep wounds with severe bleeding. However, you should seek immediate medical help if you have any of the following conditions:
- An abrasion that covers a large area in your body
- Numbness at the site of wound or injury
- Feeling dizzy or numb after an accident
- Having wide, jagged, or gaping wounds
- A large abrasion on your face
- An abrasion near your eyes
- A skin cut deeper than
- A quarter of an inch cut or deeper
- Exposed underlying muscle or fat that is seen through the cut
- An overdue on the tetanus vaccine
- Injured by a very dirty or rusty object
- Unable to properly clean and treat your wound by yourself
- Severe or profuse bleeding of the wound
- Having a wound caused by a traumatic or violent accident
- Bleeding that won't stop even after applying pressure for at least five minutes
If you notice any signs of infection, see a doctor immediately. Untreated infections can lead to more serious medical conditions.