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How Can I Tell if My Child Needs Stitches?

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Children acquire scrapes, bumps and bruises throughout the course of a busy day of play. As parents, it is important that we know when those scrapes are serious enough to require stitches.

According to the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, deep lacerations that don’t seem to stop bleeding after applying pressure for 5-10 minutes, that are longer than one-half inch or wounds that are located on a child’s face may require sutures.

The Children's Hospital also recommends seeking medical attention for other severe situations involving a laceration. A puncture wound from a rusty object, a cut imbedded with gravel or other material, a wound with ragged edges or one caused by an animal or person will most likely require special treatment from your family doctor or an emergency room.

Also, any laceration that causes your child excessive pain or appears to be swollen or infected requires medical treatment. Of course, if ever in doubt, a physician in an emergency room can decided if stitches are needed for your child.

A tetanus shot may also be necessary, especially if the laceration involved rusty metal or was contaminated with debris or saliva. According to the KidsHealth website, a tetanus shot is recommended for kids that have not received one in the last five years. However, it must be administered within 48 hours after the wound, to lower any risk for infection.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some tips on caring for a child’s stitches. New stitches should be kept dry for the first 24 hours, after which, your child can take brief showers. Bathing or swimming should be avoided until your child’s stitches are removed, usually in about a week or two, depending on the location and wound.

An over-the-counter antibiotic ointment is recommended to prevent infection as the wound continues to heal. However, if your child’s wound is closed with skin glue, rather than sutures, do not apply antibiotic ointment.

Sometimes a sterile gauze wound dressing is recommended until the wound closes, or to protect stitches from catching on clothing. Change the wound dressing as it becomes dirty or damp.


Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Lacerations with Stitches. Web. 23, Feb. 2012.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Care Advice for Sutures. Web. 23, Feb. 2012.

Kidhealth. How Can I Tell if My Child Needs Stitches for a Cut? Web. 23, Feb. 2012.

Reviewed February 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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