All You Need to Know About Scabs
This article will explain what scabs are, what can cause them, and how to treat them effectively.
A scab is a tissue covering that forms on the skin to protect a fresh wound. Scabs are part of the wound healing process. They form when the body produces cells to stop bleeding at the break in the skin. When these cells are exposed to oxygen, they dry up to protect the wound’s fragile tissue while healing.
Many different skin infections or injuries can cause scabs, including:
- skin infections, such as impetigo
- cold sores
Depending on the cause, scabs may occur only immediately following an acute injury. They may also be due to recurrent breakouts from a chronic condition, such as psoriasis.
A rare autoimmune disorder known as pemphigus vulgaris creates skin blisters and causes scabs. Blisters may appear on the entire body, including the scalp and the inside of the mouth.
Scabs may be accompanied by other symptoms, which can vary depending on the underlying condition.
Skin symptoms that may occur along with scabs
Scabs may be accompanied by other symptoms affecting the skin, including:
- bleeding or bruising
- a burning feeling
- itchy skin
- pain or soreness
- pus or discharge
- redness, warmth, or swelling
- thickening of the skin
- a tingling sensation
Other symptoms that may occur along with scabs
Scabs may be accompanied by symptoms related to other systems of the body. These symptoms include:
- nausea, with or without vomiting
- nerve problems that cause pain, numbness, or tingling
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life threatening condition
Scabs are rarely a serious condition. However, any open wound can develop into a serious bacterial infection. Seek immediate medical care if you or someone you are with has any of these life threatening symptoms:
- fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
- fever, higher than 101°F (38°C)
- pus or redness around the scab
- rapid breathing or shortness of breath
Any open wound can develop into a serious bacterial infection, although this is rare. Seek immediate medical care if you experience scabs along with difficulty breathing, high fever, or pus and redness around the scab.
If your scabs are persistent or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.
Scabs are a common symptom of skin infections, immune-mediated skin disorders, and injuries. Scabs result from a growth of new skin over damaged skin as your skin attempts to heal.
Traumatic causes of scabs
Scabs may result from injuries including:
- insect bites
Conditions that can cause scabs
Scabs may also result from certain conditions, including:
- bacterial skin infection, known as impetigo
- chickenpox, blisters, or shingles
- cold sores on your mouth and lips
- dermatitis artefacta, also known as self-inflicted sores
- psoriasis lesions
It is important to treat and care for scabs so the wound heals properly and scars appear less noticeable. You can care for scabs by:
Keeping the scab clean
Keeping the scab clean ensures no germs or debris enter and cause an infection. Infections can slow the healing process. Gently use soap and warm water to keep the area clean.
Keeping the scab moist
Using healing ointments or moisturizers, such as aloe vera gel or petroleum jelly, keeps the scab from drying out. This helps prevent itchiness and scarring and ensures the healing process is quick.
Preventing trauma to the area
Using bandages to cover fresh scabs ensures that trauma does not trigger bleeding or swelling. Playing sports or engaging in physical activity may harm wounds or scabs if they are not protected.
Try not to pick your scab, as this keeps the wound open and can result in infections from bacteria.
Because scabs can be due to serious diseases, not seeking treatment can result in complications or permanent damage.
Once your doctor identifies the underlying cause, it is important to follow any treatment plan they prescribe. This will reduce your risk for potential complications, including:
- secondary bacterial infection
- spread of infection
Scabs are a part of the wound healing process. Some situations may cause this process to happen more slowly, such as:
- having certain conditions, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
- having a zinc deficiency
- being of older age
- engaging in excessive alcohol or tobacco use
- taking certain medications
- receiving certain treatments, such as chemotherapy
Scabs are a normal part of the healing process and are a sign that your wound or injury is getting better. Although rare, accompanying symptoms, such as fever or pus, may indicate there is an infection.
It is important to treat your scab by keeping it clean, protecting it from trauma, and avoiding picking it. This will help it heal properly with minimal scarring.