Your Guide to Treating Scratches from the Garden
A dermatologist explains the best ways to care for these minor cuts and scrapes.
Minor cuts and scrapes in the garden can be more of a nuisance than an emergency, but that doesn't mean you should skimp on the first aid. Even small scratches can become red, irritated, or infected if they aren't taken care of quickly and thoroughly. We talked to Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified New York City dermatologist, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and author of the book, Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist ($10.39, amazon.com), to find out what you need to know about treating backyard cuts and scrapes.
Getty / Uwe Krejci
Minor Wound Care
Small scratches, like those you might get from a thorny bush or particularly sharp branch, don't need much in the way of care. After you've been scratched, you should wash your hands with soap and water. "Wash off the scrape with water and a gentle soap and make sure any debris is off," Dr. Jaliman explains. If it's truly a minor scrape, all it will need is a little ointment—she recommends Aquaphor ($5.89, target.com )—and a small, sterile bandage. Minor scratches should heal quickly, so there's no need to worry about them if they stop bleeding and there is no pain associated with them. "Any signs of an infection should be looked at by a physician," she adds.
More Serious Wound Care
If you're dealing with a more serious injury, Dr. Jaliman says you should follow some of the same steps you would for a minor scratch. Wash your hands with soap and water before cleaning your wound with water and a gentle cleanser. Make sure to remove any bits of dirt or other debris that you can easily see without poking or picking at the area. If it's still bleeding, you'll want to apply light pressure, which should stem the flow. "To prevent infection on this type of scratch or wound, you may use a nonprescription antibiotic ointment and then apply a sterile bandage," she says. "Change the bandage every day for a few days until it scabs." If your bandage gets wet or dirty, change it more often.
When to See the Doctor
Dr. Jaliman says that you should call your doctor's office or local urgent care if you experience bleeding that won't stop, pain doesn't let up even with over-the-counter medication, more swelling than normal, oozing, or a fever and chills—all can be signs of an infection and require more specialized care.
Create a Garden First Aid Kit
No matter how careful you are while working in the garden, accidents can still happen, which is why Dr. Jaliman recommends having a first aid kit in your home. Keeping supplies like bandages (both small and larger sizes), alcohol cleaning pads, wet wipes (skip the ones with harsh chemicals), hand sanitizer, single use antibiotic ointment packets, and tweezers (for splinters), stocked and in a central location can help with all types of small wounds.