What is cuts?

Cuts: Overview

A cut can happen anywhere on your body.

Stitches, staples, skin adhesives, or pieces of tape called Steri-Strips are sometimes used to keep the edges of a cut together and help it heal. Steri-Strips can be used by themselves or with stitches or staples.

Sometimes cuts are left open.

If the cut went deep and through the skin, the doctor may have closed the cut in two layers. A deeper layer of stitches brings the deep part of the cut together. These stitches will dissolve and don't need to be removed. The upper layer closure, which could be stitches, staples, Steri-Strips, or adhesive, is what you see on the cut.

A cut is often covered by a bandage.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

When do you need stitches for a cut?

To determine whether you need stitches, stop the bleeding and wash the wound well. Then pinch the sides of the wound together. If the wound's edges come together and it looks better, you may need stitches. If stitches may be needed, avoid using antiseptic until after a doctor checks the wound.

  • Most cuts that need treatment should be stitched, stapled, or closed with skin adhesive within 6 to 8 hours after the injury.
    • Some cuts that need treatment can be closed up to 24 hours after the injury. Your risk of infection increases the longer the cut stays open.
    • Sometimes a wound with a high risk of infection won't be stitched until after 24 hours, or won't be stitched at all, so it can be cleaned well to prevent infection.
  • A cut from a clean object may be stitched 12 to 24 hours after the injury depending on the location of the cut.

Teens: How can you care for cuts?

If a cut is open or closed

  • Prop up the sore area on a pillow anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Keep the cut dry for the first 24 to 48 hours. After this, you can shower if your doctor okays it. Pat the cut dry.
  • Don't soak the cut, such as in a bathtub. Your doctor will tell you when it's safe to get the cut wet.
  • If your doctor told you how to care for your cut, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • After the first 24 to 48 hours, wash the cut with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the cut with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a nonstick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.
  • Avoid any activity that could cause your cut to reopen.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.

If the cut is closed with stitches, staples, or Steri-Strips

  • Follow the above instructions for open or closed cuts.
  • Do not remove the stitches or staples on your own. Your doctor will tell you when to come back to have the stitches or staples removed.
  • Leave Steri-Strips on until they fall off.

If the cut is closed with a skin adhesive

  • Follow the above instructions for open or closed cuts.
  • Leave the skin adhesive on your skin until it falls off on its own. This may take 5 to 10 days.
  • Do not scratch, rub, or pick at the adhesive.
  • Do not put the sticky part of a bandage directly on the adhesive.
  • Do not put any kind of ointment, cream, or lotion over the area. This can make the adhesive fall off too soon. Do not use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.

Skin Laceration

Picture of a skin laceration

Cuts are open wounds through the skin. Normally the skin is under slight, constant tension as it covers the body. A cut is a forceful injury to the skin.

Cuts left open: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new pain, or your pain gets worse.
  • The cut starts to bleed, and blood soaks through the bandage. Oozing small amounts of blood is normal.
  • The skin near the cut is cold or pale or changes color.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness near the cut.
  • You have trouble moving the area near the cut.
  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness around the cut.
    • Red streaks leading from the cut.
    • Pus draining from the cut.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The cut is not closing (getting smaller).
  • You do not get better as expected.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.