All You Need to Know About Scabs

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Scabs are a common symptom of skin infections, immune system skin disorders, and injuries. Scabs result from the healing process, in which new skin grows over damaged skin. They may occur in conditions affecting one area of skin alone, or along with more generalized conditions, such as shingles, chickenpox, or eczema. Only in rare situations are scabs found on a significantly large area of the skin. It is important to take care of scabs to ensure the wound heals properly and scarring is minimal.

This article will explain what scabs are, what can cause them, and how to treat them effectively.

What is a scab?

a person has scabs on their knee
Eliza Alves/Stocksy United

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
  • chickenpox
  • shingles
  • blisters
  • lacerations
  • abrasions
  • burns

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.

Read more about skin infections here.

What other symptoms might occur with scabs?

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
  • crusting
  • 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:

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:

When to contact a doctor

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.

What causes scabs?

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.

Wounds or scratches due to viral skin infections, including cold sores, chickenpox, or shingles, are common causes of scabs. Similar causes include skin injuries, such as burns, lacerations, or cuts.

Traumatic causes of scabs

Scabs may result from injuries including:

  • abrasions
  • cuts
  • blisters
  • burns
  • insect bites
  • lacerations
  • lesions

Conditions that can cause scabs

Scabs may also result from certain conditions, including:

How are scabs treated?

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.

What are the potential complications of scabs?

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:

  • scarring
  • 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:

Summary

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.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 29
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