Most scratches are minor injuries that heal without any serious consequences. Complications often depend upon what caused the scratch. Scratches caused by animals, especially wild animals, may cause serious complications such as rabies. Such scratches are even more dangerous when caused on the face, hands, feet, or near a joint. Sometimes, a scratch can get infected and may lead to a generalized infection in the body such as cat scratch disease.
Cat scratch disease (CSD) is a bacterial disease caused by Bartonella henselae. It is often caused by a bite or scratch from a cat. Infected cats do not show any signs of illness, so you cannot tell which cats could spread the disease to you.
Symptoms and signs of cat scratch disease include a bump or blister at the site of the scratch followed by swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue, malaise, sore throat, weight loss, and loss of appetite.
Who is at a risk of scratches?
Scratches can affect anyone. They are one of the commonest types of superficial injuries. Some people, however, may be at a higher risk of scratches. They include the following:
- People with occupations involving working with rough surfaces such as concrete, unfinished wood, thorny plants, and sandpaper
- People involved in playing sports such as basketball, volleyball, and soccer
- People with medical conditions that affect skin sensations such as advanced diabetes and leprosy
- People with pets
What are the signs and symptoms of scratches?
Scratches are superficial wounds that do not penetrate the deeper layers of the skin. They are one of the most typical types of injuries. We all get scratches often due to sharp edges of objects, animal scratches, and scratches in response to itching. Scratches may also occur due to an injury with abrasive surfaces such as sandpaper, concrete, and unpolished or unfinished wooden objects. Most scratches are often minor injuries that heal without causing scarring. Many times, a minor scratch may get unnoticed. These are signs and symptoms of scratches:
- Pain or stinging sensation
- Bleeding, which is often mild
- The raised temperature of the affected area
The rare signs and symptoms of cat scratch disease include:
What are treatment options for a scratch?
Scratch wounds often resolve on their own. If you get a scratch wound, you should do the following:
- Wash the scratch wound thoroughly with soap and water. You may keep the wound under running water for several minutes.
- Pat dry the wound with a clean towel; do not rub.
- Apply pressure if you need to stop bleeding from the wound. Most scratch wounds do not cause any serious bleeding.
- Apply antimicrobial cream or ointment such as povidone-iodine.
- Cover the wound with a sterile bandage or clean cloth.
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers in case of painful or large scratches.
- Contact your doctor to know whether you need a tetanus booster shot. Seek medical care under these circumstances:
- There is severe pain.
- The bleeding does not stop.
- The scratch was caused by an animal (may need anti-rabies shots). An animal bite or a scratch on the face, hand, foot, or near a joint is particularly risky and needs medical attention.
- There is pus coming from the wound.
- The wound is excessively swollen.
- You develop a fever.
- You have diseases that may lower your immunity such as diabetes or human immunodeficiency (HIV).
- Change the bandage every day and look for any signs of infection such as pus coming from the wound.
- Do not scratch or pick on the wound.
- Scans Show Brain Changes in People With Long COVID
- Got GERD? Eat This Way to Help Avoid Symptoms
- 5 Women Contracted Syphilis Affecting the Eyes From the Same Asymptomatic Man
- Long COVID Now Common in U.S. Nursing Homes
- Breathing in Coal-Based Pollution Could Be Especially Deadly: Study
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Pitone, Melanie L. "Cuts, Scratches, and Scrapes." Nemours TeensHealth. September 2020. <https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/cuts.html>.
Top What Does a Scratch Mean? Related Articles
Basic Steps of Wound CareAfter you get the wound and follow all the steps of wound care, you need to observe your wound for a few days till it heals completely. Call the doctor if you feel that your wound has become infected.
Can a Scratched Eye Heal Without Treatment?A scratched eye may turn into a sore over the cornea and cause blindness. Hence, it is important to seek immediate medical care for a scratched eye (corneal abrasion). Depending on the cause, an eye scratch could leave minor to major impacts. Whatever the reason is, or the injury type is, one must not ignore an eye scratch.
Cuts, Scrapes, and Puncture WoundsLearn about first aid for cuts, scrapes (abrasions), and puncture wounds, when to see a doctor, if tetanus shots are necessary, and how to spot signs of infection.
Do I Need a Tetanus Shot for a Small Scratch?You need a tetanus shot for a small scratch if your tetanus immunization is not up to date and the injury caused a break in your skin.
Don't Scratch! What to Do When Your Eczema ItchesWhen you're tempted to give in to eczema itch despite the harm scratching can do to your skin, try these soothing ideas from WebMD instead.
First Aid: Bandaging Injuries and Wounds From Head to ToeBandaging a wound like a burn, cut, or scrape requires different techniques depending on which part of the body was hurt. Ace bandages, liquid bandages, bandage wraps, waterproof bandages, elastic bandages, and other types are available to cover and protect your wound from dirt and water.
First Aid: Wound Care for Cuts and ScrapesWound care treatment at home involves performing cuts and scrapes first aid including cleaning the injury and applying antibiotic ointment and a bandage. Use wound care products like adhesive bandages, hypoallergenic bandages, sprays, tape, and gauze. If cuts and scrapes don’t heal, see your doctor.
First Aid Quiz: Care for Wounds, Scrapes, Cuts, and BurnsWound care for cuts and scrapes includes treatment to clean and bandage the injury. Should you use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, ointment, or butter on a wound? Should you pull a bandage off fast or air out a wound? Take this quiz to test your medical knowledge.