How to care for summertime stitches and staples


by Betty-Ann Svendsen, MD

Apr 14, 2022

Being active can make life more fun, but if you’re not careful it can also keep you in stitches and sutures and staples (oh, my!).

Betty-Ann Svensden, MD, a pediatrician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – College Station Rock Prairie, has the following guidelines if you or your kids end up with lacerations or cuts that require sutures (what most of us call stitches) or staples.

Keep the wound dry

If you received a wound that requires stitches or staples, keep the wound completely dry for the first 24 hours. After that, you can take daily showers, gently cleaning the affected area well with soap and water, or shampoo if the wound is on the head.

Avoid baths, hot tubs and maybe pools

Avoid soaking the wound in hot water. Don’t take baths or sit in a hot tub, as that can soften the tissues around the wound, loosening the stitches or the staples. Swimming in a pool in the hot Texas summer for a short period of time is generally safe, but some doctors advise against swimming until after stitches are removed and the wound is healed. It is best to check with your doctor to determine whether you should make that big jump into the swimming pool.

Avoid natural water sources

However, please note that we said “swimming pool” and not “swimming hole.” You should always avoid all natural water sources while you have stitches or staples. Don’t go swimming in lakes, streams, ponds or the ocean because of the bacteria present. You don’t want to risk getting the wound infected.

Make sure your tetanus booster is up to date

Cuts and puncture wounds can be entry points for the bacterium that causes tetanus, also known as lockjaw, because of one of its common symptoms. If you have a wound that needs stitches or staples, you should find out when you had your last tetanus booster.

You may have received a DTaP shot as a child—which protects against tetanus as well as diphtheria and pertussis (or whooping cough)—but the protection from tetanus does decrease with time. Adults should get a tetanus booster every 10 years. If you aren’t sure when you last had a tetanus booster, ask your doctor to check for you.

Apply antibiotics when needed

To help speed the healing process, apply an antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, two times a day to the sutured or stapled wound. Some wounds, such as those on the arms or legs, may be covered with a gauze bandage, while others, such as those on the head, can stay open.

Sometimes you may be prescribed an antibiotic for a sutured wound, especially if the wound is accidental, such as from an animal or human bite, or a laceration or puncture wound from a sharp object. It is necessary to fill the prescription immediately and take the entire course.

Keep an eye out for infection

As you take care of your stitches or staples, be alert for any changes. It’s possible the wound could become infected and will need further treatment. If you see redness, swelling, red streaks or pus, or if you develop a fever, contact your doctor immediately. Some medical conditions, such as diabetes of vascular disease, can also prevent proper healing of a wound. And any wound that remains open or sore for more than four weeks should be brought to your doctor’s attention.

If your adventures leave you or someone in your family with an accidental souvenir that needs to be stitched up, it’s important not to ignore it. Find a doctor near you.

About the Author

Betty-Ann Svendsen, MD, is a pediatrician at Baylor Scott & White Clinic - College Station Rock Prairie.

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