Health & Wellness

A Parent’s Guide to Cuts, Breaks, Bruises and Burns

Dr. James Dwyer

A parent’s worst nightmare—an accidental tumble during a snowball fight, or an unfortunate bout of curiosity with the stove during dinner time and your child runs into your arms, in pain and inconsolable. As parents, it is assumed that our job is to be the superhero and prevent our children from getting injured. Often though, our precious little ones bump into situations that we cannot prevent, despite our superhuman efforts to keep them safe.

Here, Jim Dwyer, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Northern Westchester Hospital, offers insight on how to handle your children’s cuts, breaks, bruises and burns at home, and when it’s time to seek emergency care.

Cuts and scrapes may happen at any age. What happens when your child races outside to experience the first snowfall of the year and slips on the icy pavement? As parents, these are times that we need to remain calm and be a source of comfort for our children, even if we are panicking inside. For minor cuts, Dr. Dwyer doesn’t recommend a trip to the emergency room, but stresses the importance of cleaning the wound with soap and protecting it with antibiotic ointment and a sterile dressing to prevent infection.

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“If your child has a cut that’s actively bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean towel, or gauze, for several minutes until the bleeding stops,” Dr. Dwyer said. “More complex lacerations or deep cuts with heavy bleeding may require repair, and are best treated in an emergency department.”

Children may not remember an injury that led to a bruise, but as a parent, bruises can be upsetting to find. Bruises are blue and purple discolorations of the skin usually caused by blunt trauma which disrupts blood vessels under the skin. The discoloration is the result of bleeding under the skin.

“Bruises are extremely common in children—especially active ones—usually on the knees and shins,” Dr. Dwyer said. “Most bruises are benign and will resolve on their own. However, frequent bruising that occurs on other parts of the body, without a history of injury, should prompt a visit to your pediatrician.”

It’s also important to know that if a bruise is especially painful, consideration should be given to the possibility of a broken bone or other more serious conditions.

Unfortunately, like bruises, broken bones are also a common injury among children. If a child has significant pain or tenderness over a bone or joint after a fall or injury, or is unable to walk or bear weight, “an evaluation by a medical professional is necessary,” notes Dr. Dwyer.

“At Northern Westchester Hospital, we will do an X-ray to determine if there is a fracture,” he said. “If a fracture is present, it may only need treatment with a splint or cast until the fracture heals.”

However, sometimes a reduction, or alignment, of the bones is necessary.

“Although this may require surgery, many times the bones can be aligned by manual manipulation,” Dr. Dwyer said.

Open fractures, or broken bones that have pierced the skin, are often treated with emergency surgery to repair the fracture and clean the wound.

“This reduces the possibility of infection and provides the best chance for a good functional outcome,” assures Dr. Dwyer.

Finally, there’s the subject of burns—whether mild or severe—burns are alarming when it comes to our children.

According to Dr. Dwyer, “Superficial burns are characterized by redness and pain, and can be treated at home with soap and water, a sterile dressing and ibuprofen for pain. Bacitracin ointment should be placed on the burned area and a sterile dressing applied.”

Dr. Dwyer stresses the importance of seeking medical attention for any burns to the head, face, ears, hands or genitals.

“Full thickness burns characterized by charred or white skin, exposed fat, bone, muscle or tendon, should also be evaluated urgently in an emergency department,” he said.

Though the transformation from dependent infant to curious, walking toddler is an extremely proud and exciting moment for parents, it can be overwhelming and even a bit frightening trying to keep tabs on every voyage. Young children zoom around from morning to night, playing and exploring in areas you wouldn’t even expect. We often question how, in the blink of an eye, our child gets injured. Nobody wants their child to get hurt, but dustups and tumbles are a part of growing up and progressing.

As parents, we need to recognize the importance of remaining calm when our children come to us with an injury. Instead of panicking at the sight of blood and tears, sometimes all you need is a sterile dressing, soap and water, and some Band-Aids. When trip-ups such as cuts, breaks, bruises and burns do require a visit to the emergency room, it’s important to have a knowledgeable emergency department staff within your community to be your superheroes after unfortunate mishaps. 

Bring the kids to our Teddy Bear Clinic on April 1 to learn more about the Emergency Department at NWH. Register today at

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