How to tell if a cut is infected

Cuts and scrapes come and go, but not always as smoothly as they could. A DIY home improvement project goes amiss or a soccer mishap occurs — whatever the incident, you’re dealing with a painful skin wound. Even if you’re the kind of person who attends to wounds right away, later on in the healing process you might question how to tell if a cut is infected.

Signs of infection in cuts and scrapes

Infection prevention begins with proper wound care, but when infection does set in, you’ll want to act quickly. Contact your medical provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Increased redness or pain: All cuts hurt and become red, due to the skin trauma experienced. But the pain and redness should dissipate with time, not persist or get worse.
  • Swelling: Topical wounds should stay relatively flat, even if stitches were required because the cut was deep. Puffy skin around a wound may indicate medical attention is required.
  • Heat: If the wound feels warm, when compared to the skin around it, it could be infected. If a fever develops, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Draining or oozing: A little thin, clear, or light-yellow drainage is not cause for alarm. However, if the pus becomes smelly, thick, or green, it may be infected.

As noted by Mayo Clinic, if left untreated, infected wounds can lead to serious illness, like staph, strep, or MRSA. In some cases, a full-body, systemic infection can occur. Promptly contact your doctor if you experience a fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, joint or whole-body aches, nausea, or diarrhea. These can be indicators the infection may have spread from the initial skin injury to other body systems.

Nurturing cuts and scrapes as they heal

Generally speaking, skin injuries are a part of active living and addressed through attentive self-care. Cuts and scrapes properly cared for at the onset are less likely to become infected.

Here are four steps toward healing and minimizing scarring:

  • Wash, apply pressure, and wash again
    Start by washing your hands. Then, stop the bleeding by applying gentle pressure with a clean cloth, while keeping the injury elevated. Next, rinse the wound with water and wash the skin around the wound with soap. Mayo Clinic urges not to get soap in the wound, or use an irritant like iodine or hydrogen peroxide. Additionally, they recommend removing dirt and debris from the skin opening by using tweezers that have been cleaned with alcohol.
  • Keep it covered and moist
    Bandage the cut and apply a wound care cream. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, exposing wounds to air increases the odds for infection and dryness. The National Institutes of Health says new cells must to be able to migrate the wounded area for regeneration of healthy new skin, and dryness can lead to scarring. NeoRelief for Wound Care is a gentle wound care cream, without stinging, that uses active botanicals to aid the body’s natural healing process. It’s safe for sensitive skin, and can reduce pain, inflammation, and itching of minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. Additionally, applying NeoRelief for Wound Care can minimize scarring, excluding former scars.
  • Seriously, it’s all about the bandage
    Change your bandage every day — or sooner, if it gets wet or dirty. Keep using a bandage and a wound care cream until the cut is completely healed.
  • Use sunscreen
    Protect your new skin, by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher at the wound site.


Cleveland Clinic
Mayo Clinic

Bonus Resources:
Skin care for athletes: Stay in the game with preventative tips from dermatologists