Are Scratches Serious Injuries?

Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2022
Scratches are superficial wounds that do not penetrate the deeper layers of the skin.
Scratches are superficial wounds that do not penetrate the deeper layers of the skin.

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
  • Children
  • 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:

  • Redness
  • Pain or stinging sensation
  • Bleeding, which is often mild
  • Oozing
  • Swelling
  • The raised temperature of the affected area

The rare signs and symptoms of cat scratch disease include:


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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.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2022
Hirsch, Larissa. "Nemours KidsHealth. January 2018. <>.

Pitone, Melanie L. "Cuts, Scratches, and Scrapes." Nemours TeensHealth. September 2020. <>.