When Do You Need Stitches for a Cut? Learn the Signs to Look For

Determining when you need stitches for a cut is a job best left to medical professionals. Only they can say for sure whether a cut is severe enough to need stitches. However, certain clues can help you decide whether you can safely treat a cut at home or whether you should seek medical care at an emergency department or urgent care center—and indicate whether you’re likely to need stitches.

How to Handle a Minor Cut at Home

If a cut is minor, you can clean and bandage it at home without seeking medical attention. Minor cuts are small and shallow. In addition, these cuts don’t bleed heavily or affect sensitive areas of the body, such as the face, genitals or joints. Cuts due to rusty metal or an animal bite are serious, no matter their size or depth. They may require a shot to prevent tetanus or rabies.

To care for a minor cut, start by washing your hands. Next, gently wash the cut with lukewarm water and a mild soap. Once the wound is clean, put pressure on it with a clean, dry washcloth, which will help stop the bleeding.

Keeping the cut moist will help it heal. Prevent dryness by applying an antibacterial ointment before covering the wound with a bandage. Be sure to change the bandage daily and reapply the ointment so the cut won’t dry out.

Signs You May Need Stitches

Whether you cut your finger, leg or another part of your body, if the wound is deep or severs tissue, you need medical attention quickly. A medical provider will determine the cut’s precise depth. If you can see bone or muscle in the cut, it needs medical care—and probably stitches.

Other signs that a cut is severe and may need stitches include:

  • Debris, such as metal, wood or glass, that’s lodged in or sticking out of the cut
  • Heavy bleeding that doesn’t stop after several minutes of applying pressure
  • Spurting blood
  • Substantial width

It’s important to seek care at the nearest emergency department for a severe cut, regardless of whether you think you’ll need stitches. If a cut is likely to need stitches but you don’t seek medical care, it may take longer to heal. In addition, you may have a higher risk of infection.

Caring for a Cut With Stitches

If you receive stitches, keep the cut clean and watch it for signs of infection, such as warmth, redness or swelling. In addition, keep an eye out for loosening stitches. If you notice any problems, tell your primary care provider. Once the wound heals, the stitches will need to be removed by your primary provider or the provider who put the stitches in.

If you experience a serious cut or another medical emergency, count on the Emergency Department at River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic to provide skilled, timely care.

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