Children's Hospital Colorado

Wound Infection

Urgent or Emergency Care?

If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911. Not sure what counts as urgent and what's an emergency when your child is sick or injured? When it can't wait, know where to take your kids.

Help Me Decide

  • Signs of wound infection include pus, spreading redness, increased pain or swelling, and fever
  • A break in the skin (a wound) shows signs of infection
  • Includes infected cuts, scrapes, sutured wounds, puncture wounds and animal bites
  • Most dirty wounds become infected 24 to 72 hours later

Symptoms of Wound Infections

  • Pus. Pus or cloudy fluid is draining from the wound.
  • Pimple. A pimple or yellow crust has formed on the wound.
  • Soft Scab. The scab has increased in size.
  • Red Area. Increasing redness occurs around the wound.
  • Red Streak. A red streak is spreading from the wound toward the heart.
  • More Pain. The wound has become very tender.
  • More Swelling. Pain or swelling is increasing 48 hours after the wound occurred.
  • Swollen Node. The lymph node draining that area of skin may become large and tender.
  • Fever. A fever occurs.
  • The wound hasn't healed within 10 days after the injury.

Call 911 Now

  • Not moving or too weak to stand
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Fever occurs
  • Red streak runs from the wound
  • Spreading redness around the wound
  • Severe pain in the wound
  • Any face wound with signs of infection
  • No past tetanus shots
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Pus or cloudy drainage from the wound
  • Wound gets more painful or tender after 2 days
  • Last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • Pimple where a stitch (or staple) comes through the skin
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild redness of wound

Care Advice for Mild Redness of Wound

  1. What You Should Know About Normal Healing:
    • Some pink or red skin on the edge of the wound is normal.
    • It's more common if the wound is sutured.
    • It's also normal for it to be swollen for a few days.
    • Your child's wound is not infected unless the redness spreads or pain increases.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Warm Soaks or Warm Wet Cloth:
    • For any redness or other signs of early infection, use heat.
    • Open Cuts or Scrapes. Soak it in warm water. You can also put a warm wet cloth on the wound. Do this for 10 minutes 3 times per day. Use a warm saltwater solution. You can make your own. Put 2 teaspoons (10 mL) of table salt in a quart (liter) of warm water.
    • Closed or Sutured Cuts. Put a heating pad on the wound. You can also use a warm, moist washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes 3 times per day.
    • Cautions for Sutured Wounds. Do not put anything wet on the wound for first 24 hours. After 24 hours, can take brief showers. Never soak the wound before all sutures are removed.
  3. Antibiotic Ointment:
    • Use an antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin).
    • No prescription is needed.
    • Put it on the wound 3 times a day.
    • If the area could become dirty, cover with a bandage (such as Band-Aid).
  4. Pain Medicine:
    • To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
    • Use as needed.
  5. Fever Medicine:
    • For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
    • Note: Fevers less than 102° F (39° C) are important for fighting infections.
    • For all fevers: Keep your child well hydrated. Give lots of cold fluids.
  6. What to Expect:
    • Pain and swelling normally peak on day 2.
    • Any redness should go away by day 4.
    • Complete healing should occur by day 10.
  7. Return to School:
    • For true wound infections, your child can return after the fever is gone. Your child should also be taking an antibiotic by mouth for 24 hours.
    • For minor redness around the wound, your child does not need to stay home.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Wound becomes more painful
    • Redness starts to spread
    • Pus or fever occurs
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

Care Advice for Mild Redness of Wound

Wound Infection - Suture Site

There is a pimple where a stitch comes through the skin. The pimple suggests a low-grade infection.

Impetigo of Elbow

This shows impetigo on the elbow. Impetigo is a skin infection caused by bacteria. The infection causes a red sore which leaks fluid. This area will then dry and become crusty as it heals.

Lymphangitis - Left Forearm

If you look closely at this photo, you should be able to see a red streak (lymphangitis) spreading from the hand wound up into the arm.

The presence of lymphangitis means that there is an infection that needs urgent antibiotic treatment. It may require a hospital stay for treatment.


The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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  • Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
  • Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
    • You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
    • Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
    • Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

If you think that your child is having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!

And when in doubt, call your child's doctor NOW or go to the closest emergency department.

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