When faced with a serious cut or laceration, the first question that most people ask is: Do I need stitches? It’s a reasonable concern, and one that doesn’t always have a simple answer — especially when blood is pouring out of the wound. That said, there are some basic guidelines you can follow to help make that decision. In general, stitches (otherwise known as sutures) are the preferred option under the following conditions:
- you are unable to stop the bleeding due to the size and nature of the wound
- you are concerned about scarring (especially on the face) and need them for cosmetic purposes (stitched wounds tend to heal more cleanly)
- you notice muscle (dark red) or fat (yellow) exposed through the wound
- your cut is gaping open
Because of the pain and complexity of suturing, most patients will want to avoid stitches if they possibly can. In the case of smaller cuts, steri strips (also called butterfly stitches) may be sufficient. Though not as strong as sutures, these thin adhesive bandage strips can be equally effective as long as you keep them dry and make sure they stay affixed to the wounded area. However, if your laceration occurs in a joint area or another curved section of the body, they might not have the same effectiveness. If you are at all unsure of the proper course of action, it might be most prudent to have a doctor examine the wound.
In most cases, cuts do not need emergency care, and they can be safely dealt with by a doctor within 24 hours. However, it is vital to treat the wound properly on your own if you cannot see a medical professional right away.
Be sure to:
- stop the bleeding as quickly as possible
- wash out the wound thoroughly
- keep the wound moist using saline solution or antibiotic ointment
After the wound has been properly closed, you need to keep it covered and dry — for two days if using sutures and up to five days if using steri strips (to make sure they don’t come off prematurely). You should regularly apply antibiotic ointment and remove any loose scab material. To prevent severe scarring in the area, stay out of the sun and consider applying vitamin E oil to the wound to foster the healing process. Flaxseed oil may be helpful as well.