How To Tell if a Cut Is Infected

A cut is a common injury caused by trauma that can happen to any area of the body. Cuts can be minor (but painful), like a paper cut, or severe, requiring medical treatment. If treated at home or by a healthcare provider quickly, cuts can generally heal on their own.  

But sometimes cuts can become infected. This is when germs and bacteria can get under the skin through the cut. Signs of infection typically happen two to three days after the initial injury. 

In this article, we will discuss common signs of an infected cut, when to get treatment and how to tell if an infected cut is healing. 

Signs your cut may be infected 

Cuts can happen at any time. Most can be treated with first aid at home, but some deeper cuts may require stitches. While it is more likely for open or deep cuts to get infected, any injury could lead to an infection if not cared for properly.  

If you are wondering what an infected cut looks like, here are a few signs that you may have an infected cut.  

Your cut has a bad odor 

A bad smell is a sign that your cut is likely infected. If your cut does have a strong smell, consider washing it with soap and water and seeking medical care as soon as possible.  

Yellow Discharge 

A healing cut may leak a clear fluid, but if the fluid is yellow, green or white, this might be a sign of an infected cut.  

Pain in the area of the cut 

While all cuts are initially painful, the pain from an infected cut will gradually worsen. If your cut becomes more painful and you develop a fever, seek medical attention.  

Red or swollen skin around the cut 

The skin will become red or swollen during the initial healing process, but this should improve after a few days. If the skin becomes increasingly red, hot, swollen or inflamed, this is a possible sign of an infected cut. If the redness starts to streak to other areas of the body, this may indicate a severe infection and you should seek immediate medical care.  

How to tell if your cut is healing 

A healing cut will go through a few stages of healing. First, the body will try to stop the bleeding, this typically happens within the first few minutes for small to moderate cuts.  

You may notice the cut is red, tender and slightly painful for a few days. This is the inflammation phase, where your white blood cells are working hard to heal the injury.  

Next is the proliferation stage, where the body grows new skin cells to heal damaged ones. 

Finally, the maturation stage, where the skin continues to get stronger, and the scar starts to fade. This can last up to two years.  

How quickly a cut heals will depend on the severity of the injury, the initial treatment of the wound and your medical history.  

Cut infection FAQs 

Here are a few frequently asked questions about cut infections.  

How to treat infected cuts on fingers? 

The best way to treat a cut on your finger is to wash it with soap and water immediately after it happens. Then, apply over-the-counter antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage.  

How to clean an infected cut? 

If your cut is infected, rinse it with clean water for a few minutes and wash the area around the cut with soapy water. Apply antibiotic ointment and keep it covered. 

Can an infected cut cause illness? 

Yes, an infected cut can spread deeper into the tissues and cause an infection of your skin called cellulitis. If the infection continues to get worse, it can spread to other parts of the body, causing severe illness. 

Can an infected cut heal without antibiotics? 

Minor infections can typically heal on their own in healthy people. If the infection becomes more severe, it is best to see a healthcare provider for further evaluation and treatment.  

Visit an urgent care to treat infected cuts 

If you are unsure if your cut is infected or if you have a more serious injury that may require stitches, we can help. Our urgent care centers are open 365 days a year, seven days a week, many with extended hours. Just walk in or save your spot online at your closest urgent care center.