Caring for sutures
- All sutures (stitches) will heal with a scar, however the scar will be less noticeable if good care is given to the wound when it is healing.
- Keep the wound clean and dry, and follow your doctor or nurse’s care instructions.
- See your GP to get the stitches removed at the right time and for follow-up care.
- Protect your wound from the sun, even after it has healed – this will help reduce scaring.
What are sutures?
Sutures are little stitches that hold the edges of a wound together while the skin heals.
When the cut has healed, the sutures have done their job and are removed. Some types of sutures will automatically dissolve.
Sutures could be made of natural materials such as silk, or synthetic materials such as nylon.
What are the different sutures my doctor might use?
There are different types of sutures and techniques your doctor may use, depending on your wound.
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 do not need to be removed
Wounds or cuts can also be held together in other ways, such as:
- a special glue for skin, which falls off by itself in a few weeks
- adhesive tape (such as wound closure strips), which also falls off after some time
- metal staples, which must be removed by a doctor or nurse
Stitches in your mouth are usually dissolvable. They will fall out on their own, usually after around a week but can take up to 4 weeks to dissolve.
How can I care for my sutures?
Taking good care of the sutures will help your wound heal cleanly and minimise scarring. It’s important to keep sutures clean and dry, especially for the first 24 hours.
After 24 hours, you can wet the sutured area gently and quickly, for example in a sink or in the shower. Carefully pat the stitches dry immediately, as moisture can slow down the healing process.
The following tips can help you care for your sutures:
- Do not soak in a bath or swim until the sutures are removed or have dissolved.
- Do not pick at the stitches or scabs as it may increase scarring. These will fall off once the wound heals, or when the sutures are removed.
- Only use creams and lotions if they are recommended by your doctor.
- If your sutures have bandages or dressings, follow the care instructions given by your doctor or nurse, including keeping them clean and dry.
- Avoid physical activities that might re-open the wound. Children should avoid activities such as playing in sandpits or mud, riding bikes or swimming.
You can usually manage pain from the sutures with simple pain relief medicine such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. Check the dose of pain medicine recommended on the pack.
How do I prevent or minimise scarring?
The wound will leave a scar, whether it has been stitched or glued. The scar may look red or purple in colour or be raised; however, will fade to light pink, white or be nearly invisible over time. This may take up to two years.
Sun damage can make the scar darker and more visible. You can help protect against a darker scar by using sunscreen on the healed wound for at least 12 months.
How long will my wound take to heal?
Keeping the wound dry will allow your skin to come together and start the healing process. The healing of the wound, as well as the final appearance of the scar, depends on many factors including the original wound, inherited skin qualities and how well the scar is looked after.
When should my sutures be removed?
Stitches are often removed after 5 to 10 days, but this depends on where they are situated. Your doctor or nurse will advise you on the right time to remove your stitches. If the stitches are taken out too soon, the wound might not have healed properly. If you leave them in too long, they can be more difficult to remove and increase the risk of scarring. Dissolvable sutures do not need removal by a doctor or nurse. They will disappear naturally in a week or 2, but some take several months.
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 within 48 hours of getting the stitches
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Last reviewed: September 2022