A laceration is a cut that goes all the way through the skin. The cut can be small and cared for at home. Or it can be large and need medical attention right away.
If the cut is large, it may need stitches or staples to close the wound and stop the bleeding.
It is important to take care of the injury site after the doctor applies the stitches. This helps prevent infection and allows the wound to heal properly.
How to Care For Stitches (sutures)
Stitches are special threads that are sewn through the skin at an injury site to bring 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.
- Then, you can start to gently wash around the site 1 to 2 times daily. Wash with cool water and soap. Clean as close to the stitches as you can. DO NOT wash or rub the stitches directly.
- Dab the site dry with a clean paper towel. DO NOT rub the area. Avoid using the towel directly on the stitches.
- If there was a bandage over the stitches, replace it with a new clean bandage and antibiotic treatment, if so instructed.
- After 3 days, remove the bandage unless the health care provider told you otherwise. Allow the wound to be exposed to the open air.
- Your provider should have informed you when you need to have the stitches removed. If not, contact your provider for an appointment.
How to Care For Staples
Medical staples are made of special metal and are not the same as office staples. Care for your staples and wound as follows:
- Keep the area completely dry for 48 hours after staples are placed.
- Then, you can start to gently wash around the staple site 1 to 2 times daily. Wash with cool water and soap. Clean as close to the staples as you can. DO NOT wash or rub the staples directly.
- Dab the site dry with a clean paper towel. DO NOT rub the area. Avoid using the towel directly on the staples.
- Keep the area open to air. There is no need to place a bandage over the staples unless they keep getting caught on clothing or other things.
- Your provider should have informed you when you need to have the staples removed. If not, contact your provider for an appointment.
Keep the following in mind:
- Prevent the wound from re-opening by keeping activity to a minimum.
- Make sure your hands are clean when you care for the wound.
- If the laceration is on your scalp, it is OK to shampoo and wash. Be gentle and avoid excessive exposure to water.
- Take proper care of your wound to help reduce scarring.
- Call your provider if you have questions or concerns about how to care for stitches or staples at home.
- You can take pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed for pain at the wound site.
- Follow-up with your provider to make sure the wound is healing properly.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor 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 new numbness or tingling around the wound area or beyond it.
- You have a fever of 100°F (38.3°C) or higher.
- 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.
Skin cut - caring for stitches; Skin cut - suture care; Skin cut - caring for staples
Beard JM, Osborn J. Common office procedures. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 28.
Simon BC, Hern HG. Wound management principles. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 59.
Review Date 1/15/2016
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.