Does This Cut Need Stitches?

You’re chopping food for dinner and slice yourself by accident. Or maybe your child gets gashed while playing on gravel. Do you just bandage it up, or do you go get stitches?

Basic scrapes and scratches are easy, but beyond that, you may not be sure what to do about deeper cuts.

What Are Stitches Exactly?

Stitches in your skin are like those in your clothes -- a run of thread that holds things together. They’re made from lots of different materials, such as nylon or silk. And some, like the ones used for mouth injuries, dissolve on their own.

When you need them, stitches are important because they:

  • Give you support and strength while your skin closes up
  • Lower your chances of bleeding and infection
  • Minimize scars

So it helps to know when to take care of a cut on your own and when you need to see a doctor.

Signs You Might Need Stitches

From the size of the wound to its location, there are a lot of signs that you need stitches or at least to have a doctor check things out.

How big is it? You’ll want to see a doctor if the wound:

  • Looks very deep, even if it’s not especially long or wide
  • Is more than a half-inch long
  • Opens so wide that you can’t get the edges together with just a little pressure
  • Has ragged edges
  • Has debris in it such as dirt, glass, or gravel

How badly is it bleeding? You’ll likely need stitches if the wound:

  • Bleeds enough to soak through a bandage
  • Keeps bleeding even after you apply direct pressure for 5 to 10 minutes
  • Spurts blood

What caused it? For some wounds, you may need a tetanus shot as well as stitches. Tetanus is one of the standard shots for children. Adults need a booster every 10 years.

Get care right away if the wound is from an:

  • Animal or human bite
  • Dirty or rusty object
  • Pointed object that might have driven deep into the skin, such as a nail

Continued

Where is the wound? See your doctor if the wound is on any of these areas:

Is it getting infected? Finally, you’ll need a doctor if you or a child in your care has any signs of infection:

  • Chills or fever of 100 F or higher
  • Red streaks near the wound
  • Skin gets redder or more painful
  • Sore is warm, swollen, or oozing pus
  • Feeling like you’re going to throw up

If you have any doubts, it’s best to call your doctor.

Before You Go to the Doctor

If you do need stitches, here are a few tips before you head to the doctor.

Leave it in. If you have an object, such as a nail, stuck through your skin, leave it there. It may keep the bleeding from getting worse.

Don’t eat or drink. This one’s mostly for kids. They may need medicine to keep them calm so the doctor can put stitches in. If they’ve had anything to eat or drink, they may have to wait longer for treatment.

Apply pressure. Use a clean towel or bandage to apply direct pressure to the wound. Try to keep the injured area raised above the heart to help stop or slow bleeding. If blood soaks through, don’t remove the old bandage. Just put another one right on top of it.

Clean the wound. If you can, clean the injury. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide or iodine – both can irritate your wound. Also, avoid scrubbing. Instead, you can:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Run tap water over the wound to clean it out.
  • Pat dry the injured area with a clean towel. Avoid anything fluffy that might stick to the wound, such as cotton balls.
  • Put a clean bandage over it.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on October 31, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

KidsHealth: “How Stitches Help Kids Heal.”

MedScape: “Suturing Techniques.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Does You Cut Need Stitches? Find Out How to Tell.”

UCLA: “Lacerations With Stitches.”

AAFP: “Cuts, Scrapes, and Stitches.”

Core Physicians: “Wound Closure and Wound Care.”

NHS: “Does My Cut Need Stitches?” “How Do I Clean a Wound?”

FamilyDoctor.org: “First Aid: Cuts, Scrapes, and Stitches.”

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