How to Tell If a Cut Needs Stitches

You’re making dinner, chopping up vegetables and you cut your finger with the sharp knife. How do you know if you need stitches? What about a deep puncture wound caused by a nail? Or worse, a rusty nail? Do you need more than just stitches? We looked to the experts for how to tell if a cut needs stitches or not.

NHS of the UK

According to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, a cut may need stitches (or other treatments) if:

  • The bleeding does not stop after 10 minutes of applying pressure
  • The cut is long or deep
  • Something is embedded within the cut
  • The cut occurred as a result of an animal or human bite, or was punctured by any other object that may cause infection
  • The cut is on the mouth, face, hand or genitals

Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic in America agrees with this set of criteria and gives more details on what to look for in a cut. Is it:

  • Deep enough to expose the dermis or yellow subcutaneous fatty tissue.
  • Gaping open so that you can’t easily use gentle pressure to press the edges together.
  • Located on or across a joint. 
  • The result of an animal or human bite.
  • A result of a foreign object impaling the area.
  • Made by a high-pressure impact from a projectile like a bullet.
  • Contaminated or resulting from a very dirty or rusty object.
  • Bleeding profusely (and flow does not appear to slow).
  • On a cosmetically significant area, such as the face.
  • On or near the genitalia.

With any wound, but especially deep wounds, it’s important to wash it out. Doctors and nurses at the ER will make sure this is done properly, though it probably won’t feel very comfortable. Since they can never be 100% sure that all of the bacteria has been rinsed out, you’ll be given antibiotics and most likely shots to prevent certain diseases.

Tetanus

If you were cut by something dirty or rusty, you’ll most likely get a tetanus shot. This shot prevents tetanus, a disease caused by a bacteria toxin. Symptoms of tetanus include painful muscle contractions and affects your nervous system. Since your diaphragm is a muscle, tetanus can affect your breathing, so it’s very important to get the tetanus shot if you have a deep cut.

Rabies

If you were bitten by an animal, you’ll need a rabies shot. This virus is transmitted from animals to humans via bites and scratches. Since this neurological disorder is 100% fatal and has no treatment, a rabies shot when you get to the emergency room is an absolute necessity. 

Signs of Infection

Once doctors are sure it is safe to close your wound, they’ll put in some stitches and send you home. The nurses will give you instructions on how to care for your wound and inform you about the signs of infection. If your condition does not improve, you will want to contact your doctor or go back to the emergency room for more treatment.

How to Tell if a Cut Needs Stitches — Sources: NHS.UK, WebMD, Cleveland Clinic