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Does My Child Need Stitches?

September 26, 2017

Does My Child Need StitchesEvery time you hear that tell-tale cry of your child tripping and falling or getting hurt, there’s a moment of panic before you’re able to actually know how severe or minor the injury is. With cuts or lacerations in kids, it’s helpful that the damage is on the surface so it’s fairly easy to assess your child’s injury. Still, it can be a challenge to know where the line is between a minor scrape you can treat at home and a more substantial cut that needs medical attention. At Children’s Wellness Center, our pediatric nurse practitioner and board-certified pediatricians are here to offer a little advice.

How to Know if a Cut Needs Stitches

The majority of kids’ cuts and scrapes are minor enough to be treated at home, but some do need stitches or other types of medical care in order to heal properly and avoid a potentially serious infection. Here are a few indicators that a cut may need stitches:

  • The cut goes all the way through the skin
  • The cut is gaping (meaning that the sides are pulling away from each other, showing dark red or yellowish tissue beneath, rather than lying flat). Particularly, be sure to get medical care for a cut that is both gaping and longer than ½ inch in length.
  • The cut won’t stop bleeding after a full ten minutes of applying pressure.

What to Expect if Your Child Needs Stitches

In this day and age, there are actually a number of ways to treat a cut for kids in a medically safe and sterile way. Traditional stitches are still used in some cases (especially if the cut or laceration is in an area where there is a lot of tension and movement in the skin), and may or may not be absorbable. If your child’s stitches are not absorbable, the doctor will tell you when you should have them removed. This will vary based on the type and location of the wound. However, our providers at Children’s Wellness Center can remove stitches so that you don’t need to return to the emergency room.

For wounds in the scalp, staples are generally used instead of stitches. Another highly popular option, though, is medical glue. Since its approval in 1998, medical glue has been used successfully for straight cuts because it’s done in a quick and painless procedure. However, this specialized glue cannot be used for wounds in areas where muscle usage will create tension in the skin, so physicians are very selective in deciding when it is an appropriate option.

Steri-strips are an option that is essentially halfway in between medical glue and stitches. Sometimes called “butterfly” bandages, steri-strips are small pieces of medical-grade adhesives that are placed across a cut (criss-crossing the cut like a “t”) to hold the edges of skin together. This allows the cut to heal more smoothly while keeping dirt out to avoid infections in kids. While they can apply a bit of tension for gaping cuts (unlike medical glue), steri-strips are not as secure as stitches and typically aren’t used in highly mobile areas of the body, like the knees and elbows.

If your child gets a cut that you believe may require stitches, bring your child to a nearby emergency room or urgent care clinic, such as those provided by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The providers will be able to identify the best way to treat your child’s cut and safely and swiftly. Please remember that while we offer a wide variety of services at Children’s Wellness Center, we do not have the equipment necessary to provide stitches or other emergency treatments for kids, so please seek a form of urgent care regardless of whether or not the injury occurs during our regular business hours.

How to Treat Minor Cuts at Home

If your child’s laceration doesn’t look severe enough to need stitches, there are a few simple steps you can follow at home to prevent infection and help your child heal:

  1. Examine the wound for any materials. If the object that caused the cut (like a nail) is still in place, apply pressure and seek medical care (which may include a tetanus shot depending on the object that caused the cut) – do not try to remove the object on your own.
  2. Clean the wound carefully by flushing it with cool water. Make sure your hands are clean first, and then ensure that you get all dirt and debris out of the cut. Wash the area around the wound with mild soap and water to clear away any nearby bacteria.
  3. Cover the wound with dry gauze (or a clean towel if you don’t have gauze available) and apply pressure for 5-10 minutes to stop the bleeding. If blood soaks through the gauze or towel, simply place a new piece on top of it rather than removing the piece that’s already in place.
  4. After the bleeding has stopped, apply an antibacterial ointment and a dry, clean bandage. Some cuts, like those in areas that are unlikely to get dirty, can be left to heal in the open air, although you should still apply antibacterial ointment.

As a parent, there’s nothing that can fully take away the worry and heartbreak you feel when your child gets hurt. Still, being knowledgeable about how to handle these situations can certainly help to put your mind at ease and give you guidance in an emergency. When it comes to keeping your kids safe and healthy during all those non-emergency times, our providers at Children’s Wellness Center are honored to provide the top-notch care your family deserves. Give us a call to schedule an appointment at Children’s Wellness Center, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for all our latest blogs and other helpful health tips for kids.

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