Stitches are special threads that are sewn through the skin at an injury site to bring the edges of a wound together. Care for your stitches and wound as follows:
Keep the area dry for the first 48 hours after stitches have been placed.
Gently wash around the site with cool water and soap. Clean as close to the stitches as you can. Avoid washing or rubbing the stitches directly and avoid putting tension on the area.
Dry the site with a clean paper towel. Avoid using the towel directly on the stitches.
If there was a bandage over the stitches, replace it with a new clean bandage.
After 3 days, remove the bandage unless the health care provider told you otherwise. Allow the wound to be exposed to the open air.
Keep the site clean and dry by washing it 1 to 2 times daily.
Your provider should tell you when to come back to get the stitches removed. If not, contact your provider.
How to Care for an Open Wound
If your provider does not close your wound again with sutures, you need to care for it at home. The wound will heal from the bottom up to the top.
You may be asked to keep a dressing over the wound, or your provider may suggest leaving the wound open to air.
Keep the site clean and dry by washing it once a day. You will want to prevent a crust from forming or being pulled off. To do this:
Your provider may suggest using petroleum jelly or an antibiotic ointment on the wound.
If there is a dressing and it sticks to the wound, wet it and try again, unless your provider instructed you to pull it off dry.
DO NOT use skin cleansers, alcohol, peroxide, iodine, or soap with antibacterial chemicals. These can damage the wound tissue and slow healing.
The treated area may look red afterwards. A blister will often form within a few hours. It may appear clear or have a red or purple color.
You may have a little pain for up to 3 days.
Most of the time, no special care is needed during healing. The area should be washed gently once or twice a day and kept clean. A bandage or dressing should only be needed if the area rubs against clothes or may be easily injured.
A scab forms and will usually peel away within 1 to 3 weeks, depending on the area treated.
The following tips may help:
Prevent the wound from re-opening by keeping strenuous activity to a minimum.
Make sure your hands are clean when you care for the wound.
If the wound is on your scalp, it is OK to shampoo and wash. Be gentle and avoid a lot of exposure to water.
Take proper care of your wound to prevent further scarring.
You can take pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, as directed for pain at the wound site. Ask your provider about other pain medicines to make sure they will not cause bleeding.
Follow-up with your provider to make sure the wound is healing properly.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your health care provider right away if:
There is any redness, pain, or yellow pus around the injury. This could mean there is an infection.
There is bleeding at the injury site that will not stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure.
You have a fever greater than 100°F (37.8°C).
There is pain at the site that will not go away, even after taking pain medicine.
The wound has split open.
Your stitches or staples have come out too soon.
After full healing has taken place, call your provider if the skin lesion does not appear to be gone.
Lynn PB. Cleaning a wound and applying a dry, sterile dressing. In: Lynn PB, ed. Taylor's Handbook of Nursing Skills. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, Wolters Kluwers. 2011.
Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.