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When to Get Stitches

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 6/30/2009

Almost everyone has had stitches and most parents have been presented with the question of whether they should take their child for stitches. How do you know when stitches are needed? This article will tell you what you need to know!

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    Stitches and Sutures

    The terms stitches and sutures basically mean the same thing. For some reason sutures are usually referred to when surgery is involved and stitches are usually referring to that trip to the emergency room after you cut yourself while doing dishes or working with a power tool. Bet you weren't expecting your chores to end with a sewing session did you? But how do you know when it's time to head for the emergency room. Read the next section to find out.

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    How Do You Know if You Need Stitches?

    Your son comes tearing around the corner, blood streaming down his leg, screaming his head off. Your first thought is that the emergency room is going to know you by first name basis by the time he is 18. Then you get him inside and clean the blood off to see the damage. The cut is long and bleeding profusely, but you don't see skin or even muscle so you are unsure of whether or not he needs to go to the hospital.

    The basic rule of thumb is that if the cut is more than 1/4" deep it needs stitches. Obviously if you can see bone, muscle or organs it's time to head for the hospital. Bleeding tends to scare people, but in all reality, the bleeding is a good thing because the blood flow is actually cleaning the cut. Obviously you don't want to lose too much blood, but some is normal and easily replenished. Another good way to know if you need stitches is by the pain level. Cuts that are on the skin and are fairly deep don't really hurt. That's because the cut has gone beyond your pain receptors and is probably well over 1/4" deep. Get to the hospital quickly.

    What you can expect when you get there is for the staff to clean the cut, give you a shot to numb the pain and stitch you up! honestly the cleaning hurts worse than the original cut usually does. Again, the blood flow is a good thing because if the blood has done enough cleaning you will only need a bit of antiseptic and a rinse before the stitches begin rather than a good scrubbing!

    The only maintenance that you need to do once you actually get stitches is to keep them clean and go back to have them removed if you were instructed to do so by your doctor. Some stitches dissolve themselves over time so you won't even need to go to the doctor to have them removed. You may also want to keep an antibiotic cream on them to block infection as well as to help moisturize the skin that will begin to itch as it heals.

    Reference: Medline Plus