Sutures hold a wound or cut closed so that it can heal. When the cut is healed, the sutures have done their job and are removed (some types of suture will automatically dissolve). Taking good care of the sutures will help the wound heal cleanly and minimise scarring.
What are sutures?
Sutures are little stitches that hold the edges of a wound together while the skin heals. They could be made of natural materials such as silk, or synthetic materials such as nylon.
Types of suture
Sutures can be:
- regular stitches – these will be removed by a doctor or nurse once the wound has healed
- dissolvable stitches – these are absorbed by the body naturally and don’t need to be removed; they are very useful when stitches are needed under the skin’s surface
Wounds or cuts can also be held together in other ways such as:
- a special glue for skin, which falls off of its own accord in a few weeks
- adhesive tape (such as steri-strips), which also falls off naturally
- metal staples, which must be removed by a doctor or nurse
How to care for sutures
It’s important to keep sutures clean and dry. You should only use creams and lotions if recommended by your doctor.
If you have any bandages or dressings, talk to the doctor or nurse about how to care for them. You’ll need to keep them dry, too; if they get wet, change them. If you can’t do that, see the doctor or nurse.
First 2 days
It’s a good idea to avoid physical activities that might re-open the wound. Children should avoid activities such as playing in sandpits or mud, riding bikes or swimming.
After 24 hours, you can wash the sutured area gently and quickly, either in a sink or in the shower. Carefully pat the stitches dry.
It’s best not to soak the wound in a bath, go swimming or wash dishes without gloves until it has healed and the stitches have been taken out or have dissolved.
Pain from the wound and sutures can usually be managed with simple pain relief medicine such as paracetamol.
As the wound heals, don’t pick at the stitches or scab. Picking at it might increase scarring.
At first, your scar will be red and raised, but over time it will become paler and more flexible
For the first year, protect the scar from sun damage which can make it darker.
How long do sutures take to heal?
Stitches are often removed after 5 to 10 days, but this depends on where they are. Check with the doctor or nurse to find out.
Dissolvable sutures may disappear in a week or two, but some take several months.
If your sutures are not the dissolvable type, see a doctor or nurse when it is time for them to be removed. Do it at the right time – if you have the stitches taken out too soon, the wound might not be healed properly. If you leave them in too long, you can get scarring.
When should I get my sutures checked?
You should get your sutures checked if:
- the wound re-opens
- the wound looks the same after 5 days as when it was stitched
- the sutures come out before they should
- the wound becomes more red, swollen or painful
- the amount of ooze or pus increases
- you develop a fever
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Last reviewed: March 2018