A scab is a common occurrence of a healing wound. Also known as an eschar, this crust-like covering protects the injured area while it recovers. In medical emergencies, when a wound is severe and/or deep, it is unlikely that clinicians will allow a scab to form. This is because an eschar only forms because the wound is too dry to heal at a faster pace.1 That's why many health care professionals will advise the use of wet-to-dry bandages. That being said, it is not wise to pick at scabs.
Where scabs come from?
When a minor scrape or other injury occurs and does not require medical attention, the best most can do is clean the wound and place a bandage on it. However, when left exposed to the air to heal, it is likely that a scab will form, and here's why:
- As the body works to fight off bacteria and infection, it is also creating the protein Fibrin – this is what causes our blood to clot when an cut is experienced.2
- All of these things come to the surface and pull crust over to begin the healing process.
- This is the body's way of fighting off infection as well as preventing further blood loss following clotting.
If a scab is removed from the skin before falling off naturally, there are a few issues that may arise. For instance, this puts the wound in danger of developing an infection. Additionally, it will take longer for the injury to heal and is more likely that the skin will remain scarred.
What to do when a scab itches
It's not uncommon for scabs to itch as they are healing, but scratching them can lead to reopening the wound. So, what should you do instead?
- Practicing proper wound care can help speed up the process of healing and can prevent some of that itching before it begins.3
- Using antibiotic cream on the wound will alleviate the need to scratch at a scab, as it provides moisture to the dry skin that is causing your irritation.
- Other products such as vitamin E oil can provide relief when massaged onto the wound.
1 Slate, "Does removing scabs from a wound speed up healing?"
2 Science Museum, "What are scabs for, and is it OK to pick them?"
3 Anatomy in Motion, "Why do wounds itch when they are healing?" January 26, 2013