How to care for stitches
You return from the emergency room with a sigh of relief. The doctor has attended to the wound and applied stitches, known also as sutures. But the healing process isn’t over yet. Caring for the stitches until they heal or are absorbed is an important part of the healing process. This applies whether the stitches are a result of an injury or a scheduled surgery. Your doctor may elect to prescribe antibiotics to minimize the possibility of infection.
Your care for the stitches can promote healing and help diminish the likelihood of scarring. Learn how to care for stitches and you can minimize complications.
Keeping the stitches clean and protected is your first priority. Keep the area covered. After the first day you may clean the area with hydrogen peroxide. Clean the area gently with soap and water once or twice daily. Dry thoroughly and apply ointment. These measures will help prevent infection.
With young children, these precautions can be an endless challenge. Emphasize the importance of keeping dirt out of the stitched area. Try to limit activities that might cause the stitches to tear the skin. Inspect the site regularly to make sure stitches have not pulled loose. Also watch for signs of infection.
What about my normal activities?
After the first day, it is okay to get the stitches wet. You can bathe or shower as usual. Avoid swimming, especially in chlorinated water.
Use caution if the stitches are on or near a joint where they experience much movement. The action can create fiction and increase chances of scarring. In extreme cases, sutures may tear lose from the healing area.
Pain and itching
You can expect some bruising and discomfort on the second day. If you experience excessive pain, take a pain reliever recommended by your physician. An aspirin product can cause the blood to thin and make you more susceptible to bleeding. Avoid alcohol for the same reasons.
Avoid scratching the area, as that can cause bleeding and may even tear skin away from the stitches. Application of an ointment should minimize the sensation of itching.
To bandage or not
Folk wisdom suggests that a wound heals better when left open to the air. In the case of healing stitches, they respond better with the protection of a bandage. Leave the hospital-applied bandage in place for the first 24 hours. Change bandages when you clean the site and apply ointment. Use an antibiotic ointment. Not only will it prevent infection, but also keep the bandage from sticking to the skin.
Keep on top of the healing process to avoid unwanted complications. Your doctor will probably provide you with specific instructions. Call the office if you have questions or experience problems. High fever and tenderness at the site can mean an infection has occurred.
Drainage of clear or red fluid is natural. Contact your doctor if the area begins to drain pus or a gray or yellowish fluid. Redness, swelling, and pain can also be danger signals. If bleeding occurs, press a piece of gauze or cotton over the area. Hold firmly in place for several minutes until bleeding stops.
Most stitches will be scheduled for removal anywhere from 3 to 14 days. Wounds on the upper body and torso will heal more quickly than those on the lower legs. Children generally heal more rapidly than adults. Older adults heal the most slowly of all.
Your physician will schedule an optimal time for your appointment. Be sure to show up for your appointment. Not having the stitches removed in a timely manner can cause complications. More scarring is likely when stitches are left in too long. Removing the stitches is generally painless.
Even after stitches are removed, you should continue caring for the site. Complete healing may take as long as four weeks. If stitches are self-dissolving, make sure you know what to expect.
A happy ending
The doctor has done her part, how well will you do yours? Learning how to care for stitches is an important part of the healing process. Follow the instructions of your health care provider for the best results. A rapid recovery without infection and with a minimum of scarring makes everyone happy. And you certainly don’t want to make a repeat visit to have a wound restitched.