How To Know If You Need Stitches

According to the Wound Care Society, the reasons why a wound needs to be closed by suturing are to stop bleeding, promote healing, prevent infection, and prevent scarring. Sutures include absorbable sutures that do not need to be removed, non-absorbable sutures that need to be removed, and staples that need to be removed. A sutured wound may also be reinforced with small thin bandages called Steri-Strips or a skin adhesive.

You may need stitches if your wound:

  • Continues to bleed for over 10 minutes despite putting pressure on it
  • Is spurting blood when you take the pressure off it
  • Is deeper than one-fourth of an inch
  • Has a gaping space that won’t stay closed
  • Is located over a joint that stretches the wound, like your knee, elbow, hand, or finger
  • Is on your face or genital area

The medical term for a deep cut that goes all the way through the skin is a laceration. Lacerations need to be sutured. They can reach down through fat and muscle to bone. Cuts around the face may not be as deep, but a cut through the lip area or around the eye may need to be sutured to prevent an unsightly scar.

First Aid for Cuts or Lacerations

The first thing to do is clean the wound with cool tap water and a mild soap. Put pressure over the wound with a sterile gauze pad, if you have one, or a clean cloth. If you can raise the wound area above the level of your heart, it helps the bleeding stop. A shallow wound that stops bleeding with pressure and stays closed may not need to be sutured.

When Should You Go to Urgent Care?

Time is important when you have a wound that needs stitches. The best time to close a wound is in the first 6 hours. After 6 hours, the risk of infection goes up and the wound may need to be left open. Some wounds need urgent care even if they do not need sutures because they have a higher risk of infection. Always go to the ER or urgent care if:

  • Your wound is dirty or caused by a dirty or rusty object
  • Your wound is caused by a puncture
  • Your wound is caused by a human or animal bite

What Happens if You Don’t Get Stitches?

Wounds that have a high risk of infection are not sutured. Infected wounds need to be treated differently. Infected wounds need to drain. Closing an infected wound makes the infection worse and the wound will not heal.

If you don’t close a wound that needs to be sutured, you may get an infected wound. An infected wound can be life threatening if the infection spreads through your body. A wound that is left open may still heal but is more likely to leave a scar. A scar on the face or a lip that heals unevenly may need cosmetic surgery to correct.

How to Care for Stitches

Your health care provider should give you instructions on how to care for your sutured wound and when to come back if you need stiches or staples removed. Sutures of the face are usually removed in three to five days because the face has a very good blood supply and heals quickly. Sutures over a joint and sutures of the arm or leg usually stay in for two weeks. Sutures in other parts of the body may be removed in 7 to 10 days.

Instructions for home care of sutures may include:

  • Keep your suture area clean and dry.
  • Do not get your sutures wet for the first 24 to 48 hours.
  • Ask your health care provider when you can take a shower or bath or go for a swim.
  • Limit any activities that put pressure or stretch your sutures.
  • Check your suture area frequently for any signs of infection.
  • Return for suture removal as told by your health care provider.

Once your sutures can get wet, you may be told to clean your wound. Before cleaning, wash your hands with soap and water. Remove your dressing if you have one. Wash the wound area with cool water and a mild soap. Do not rub or scrub the sutures. Check the suture areas for signs of infection and pat dry with a clean towel. Your health care provider will tell you if you need to replace your dressing after cleaning.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor or other health care provider or go to urgent care if:

  • You have a fever
  • You see redness, swelling, bleeding, pus, or fluid coming from your wound
  • Your wound becomes painful, feels warm, or develops a bad smell
  • The edges of your wound separate or sutures come out too soon

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