Do I Need Stitches? Find Out How To Tell

by Statcare Urgent Medical Care

What is a laceration?

Lacerations are cuts on the skin. While incisions are cuts produced by a sharp object such as glass or a razor, lacerations are blunter and irregular.  Not all lacerations need stitches. In fact, small lacerations can be cared for right at home.

Home Care

Small lacerations can be cleaned at home and covered with a clean gauze and tape if they fit the following criteria:

  • the bleeding stops in 10 minutes or less.
  • the cut is not on the face (especially on the mouth or near the eyes).
  • the cut is small and not very deep (not more than 1/4 inch deep).

If your wound does not fit this description, you might need stitches. Stitches are not only necessary to stop the bleeding, but they also help speed up healing and prevent infections. Your risk of infection increases the longer the wound remains open. Most wounds that require closure should be stitched, stapled or closed with skin adhesives within 6 to 8 hours after the injury. Some wounds that require treatment can be closed as long as 24 hours after the injury.

If you have diabetes, chronic kidney failure or a suppressed immune system, your wounds might not heal as fast or as well as other people, so you might need stitches even if it is a small laceration. When in doubt, come to any of our clinics and speak to our health care providers.

Getting Stitches

Sutures (or stitches) are the most common method used to close up a laceration. Non-dissolvable sutures made of nylon or polypropylene material are used to close the outer layer of wounds. Dissolvable sutures made of polyglycolic and polygalactic acid are used to close deeper layers of skin and tissue.

Signs that a cut requires stitches:

  • Deep enough to exposure the yellow subcutaneous fatty tissue, muscle or bone.
  • Gaping open so that you can't easily use gentle pressure to press the edges together.
  • Located on or across a joint (concern for damaged nerves, tendons/ligaments).
  • The result of an animal or human bite.
  • A result of a foreign body impaling the area.
  • Made by a high-pressure impact from a projectile like a bullet.
  • Contaminated or resulting from a very dirty or rusty object.
  • Bleeding profusely.
  • On a cosmetically significant area, such as the face, lips, eyelids.
  • On or near the genitalia.

You may also need a tetanus vaccine booster.

Removal of Stitches

Most stitches are removed within 10 days and as soon as five days in areas like the face, where the blood supply is rich - which makes healing faster. The longer the stitches are left in, the higher the risk of scarring. The main goal of stitches is to help your wound heal, so if they need to stay in place for a longer period of time, the health care provider may choose to do that. Stitches are easy to remove with surgical scissors. After the stitches are removed, the area will be examined by the healthcare provider to ensure that it's healing properly and that it is properly closed. Although you might be tempted to remove the stitches at home, it's safer if you return to the clinic for this. It's easy to re-injure the area - or even cause an infection -if you're not careful. This will result in a feeling of general illness, and may require antibiotics for you to get well.

Walk-in to any of our clinics and talk to our providers. No appointment is necessary at our clinics and you’ll only wait minutes to be seen. You can call ahead at (855) 9 FOR DOC and let us know you’re on the way or you can check in online.

Sources: CDCCleveland Clinic