Caring for Stitches (Sutures)

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

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How do doctors close wounds?

Stitches or sutures are one method used to close a wound. That wound may be an incision made in the operating room or an accidental laceration closed in the emergency department or doctor's office. While there may be some stitches that cannot be seen that are placed deep inside the wound or under the skin, those that are visible on the skin need to be treated with care. Other wound closure options include staples and glue.

How do you care for stitches?

Whenever the skin has been damaged, there is potential for infection. The wound and the stitches that hold it together may be cleansed gently with mild soap and water after 24 hours. Twice daily washing may decrease the risk of infection. Sometimes, your doctor may recommend the use of an antibiotic ointment like bacitracin or Neosporin to help minimize infection.

It is important to avoid getting the wound dirty or very wet. Briefly showering may be advisable, but swimming should be avoided until the stitches are removed. Kids should avoid playing in the mud, sand, or water. A bandage or other covering might be necessary if the wound rubs up against clothing or if it is draining fluid.

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When will stitches be removed?

When stitches are expected to be removed depends upon the location on the body. Facial wounds usually have stitches removed after 3 to 5 days, while those over a joint where the skin is constantly moving may be left in for a couple of weeks. It is important to return for stitch removal when advised by your doctor to minimize scarring and decrease the risk of infection. In some circumstances, the wound will be closed with absorbable or dissolvable stitches that do not need to be removed.

What happens after stitches are removed?

Healing wounds will itch, and it is important that they not be scratched. Scratching can introduce infection into the wound.

It is normal for the wound to be slightly red as part of the normal healing process. However, if the redness begins to spread from the edges of the wound, or if it becomes warm and painful, or pus begins to drain, it is important to have the wound rechecked. If an infection is present, the stitches may need to be removed immediately open the wound and an antibiotic prescription considered.

Once the stitches have been removed, it will take months for the wound and the scar to finally mature. For the first two to three months, there will be a red, raised healing ridge. Over the next couple of months, this will gradually flatten. Finally, the scar will weather and fade.

All wounds and incisions will leave scars. Some doctors might recommend aloe Vera or Vitamin E creams, ointments or gels to minimize scarring, but there is no research evidence that these treatments affect final scar appearance.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care

REFERENCE:

Baumann LS, Spencer J. The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Dermatol Surg. 1999 Apr;25(4):311-5

Cuttle L. et al. A review of first aid treatments for burn injuries. Burns. 2009 Sep: 35 (6) 768-775


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Reviewed on 6/14/2016

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