When You Should See a Healthcare Provider for a Cut or Scrape

You may need stitches, antibiotics, or a tetanus shot

Should you see a healthcare provider about your cut or scrape? Maybe you tripped over your 4-year-old's LEGO castle and cut yourself as you fell. Or perhaps that thumbtack you stepped on looked dirty and you can't remember when you last had a tetanus shot. How do you know when it's time to seek professional medical care?

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When You Need to See a Healthcare Provider

Whether you should see a healthcare provider about a cut or another skin injury depends on its shape, severity, location and risk of infection, and whether medical care could lessen scarring or improve healing. You should see a healthcare provider immediately if any of the following are factors with your wound:

  • The shape of the wound is jagged.
  • The injury is located on your face.
  • The edges of the wound are gaping open.
  • The injured area contains embedded dirt.
  • Blood is spurting out or the bleeding won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure.
  • It's been five years or more since you've had a tetanus shot.

After examining the wound, your healthcare provider may clean it and prescribe oral antibiotics. They will also determine whether or not you need stitches to help the wound heal faster and leave less of a visible scar.

Stitches on the face are usually removed after three days. In high-stress parts of the body, like elbows, stitches can stay in for up to 14 days. Alternatives to stitches include adhesive tape, staples, or liquid skin adhesives that work like glue. Liquid adhesives don't need to be removed.

If you didn't receive a three-shot series for tetanus, also known as lockjaw, as a child—or if you haven't had a booster shot within the past 10 years—now's the time to get caught up, either with that three-shot series or the booster.

For maximum effectiveness, tetanus shots should be given within one to three days of an injury.

If your wound is serious, your healthcare provider may recommend a booster even if you've had one between five and 10 years ago. However, getting a tetanus shot more frequently than every five years could result in an allergy to the vaccine, and the vaccine might no longer protect you.

While many people believe it's the rust on an object that leads to tetanus, it's actually the dirt that carries most of the risk.

Signs of Infection

If you elect not to see a healthcare provider, be sure to clean the wound thoroughly at home. Sometimes, even if you didn't need to seek medical help immediately after your injury, you may still need a healthcare provider's care.

For example, if you experience any of the following after a few days of home treatment, you should contact a healthcare provider:

  • Swelling, pain, or redness around the wound
  • Red streaks visible near the injury, pointing toward the heart
  • Pus discharging from the wound or visible in it
  • Numbness in the area around the injury
  • Having a temperature over 100 F

If you notice any of these symptoms, but can't schedule a healthcare provider's appointment that day, you should go to the emergency room.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Does your cut need stitches? Find out how to tell. July 10, 2019.

  2. National Health Services. How should I care for my stitches? Reviewed March 31, 2017.

  3. CDC. Tetanus vaccination. Reviewed February 28, 2019.

Additional Reading
  • "Cuts, Scrapes, and Stitches: Caring for Wounds." familydoctor.org. Dec. 2006. American Academy of Family Physicians. 12 Feb. 2009 .

  • "Tetanus." nlm.nih.gov. 17 Jun. 2008. National Institutes of Health. 12 Feb. 2009 .

  • "Tetanus Vaccine." med.umich.edu. 7 Nov. 2005. University of Michigan. 12 Feb. 2009 .

  • "Wound (Skin) Infection." med.umich.edu. 2 Mar. 2006. University of Michigan. 24 Feb. 2009 .

  • Porter, Sandy J. "Sutures." stvincent.org. 2006. St. Vincent's Indianapolis Hospital. 12 Feb. 2009 .