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Care for a Skin Wound - Topic Overview

Bandage the wound

Consider bandaging the wound if you need to protect it from getting dirty or irritated. Choose the bandage carefully. There are many products available. Before you buy or use one, be sure to read the label carefully and follow the label's instructions when you apply the bandage.

  • Be sure you have thoroughly cleaned the wound.
  • Put on the bandage.
  • When your bandage gets wet or soiled, put on a new, clean bandage to help prevent infection. If a bandage is stuck to a scab, soak it in warm water to soften the scab and make the bandage easier to remove. If available, use a nonstick bandage.
  • If needed, use an adhesive strip called a butterfly bandage to hold the edges of the wound together. You can make one at home camera.gif or buy them already made. Always put the butterfly bandage across a cut, not lengthwise, to hold the edges together.
  • Watch for signs of infection. If an infection develops under a bandage, you may need to see your doctor.

  • Take the bandage off and leave it off whenever you are sure the wound will not become irritated or dirty.

Use of an antibiotic ointment has not been shown to affect healing. If you choose to use an antibiotic ointment, such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin, apply the ointment lightly. The ointment will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. Be sure to read the product label about skin sensitivity. If a skin rash or itching develops under the bandage, stop using the ointment.

Large, deep, or very dirty wounds

You may need to see a doctor for a large, deep, or very dirty wound. You may also need to see a doctor if the wound is too painful to clean or you cannot remove dirt, debris, or a foreign object. The doctor will also know if you need antibiotics or stitches.

Most wounds that need stitches should be treated within 6 to 8 hours after the injury to reduce the risk of infection. Very dirty wounds may not be stitched to avoid the risk of infection.

If you are going to see a doctor immediately, the wound can be cleaned and treated at the medical facility.

When to get stitches

A quick test to determine whether you need stitches is to stop the bleeding, wash the wound well, and then pinch the sides of the wound together. If the edges of the wound come together and it looks better, you may want to consider getting stitches. If stitches may be needed, avoid using an antiseptic or antibiotic ointment until after a doctor has examined the wound.

  • Most cuts that require treatment should be stitched, stapled, or closed with skin adhesives within 6 to 8 hours after the injury. Some cuts that require treatment can be closed as long as 24 hours after the injury. Your risk of infection increases the longer the cut remains open. Occasionally a wound that is at high risk of infection will not be stitched until after 24 hours. Or it may not be stitched at all, so that adequate cleaning and antibiotic treatment can be done first to prevent infection.
  • A cut from a clean object, such as a clean kitchen knife, may be stitched from 12 to 24 hours after the injury depending on the location of the cut.
  • A facial wound may be treated to reduce scarring.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 06, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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