Urgent Care

How To Tell If You Need Stitches?

Alexis Bryan
Alexis Bryan12 Dec 2022

You might need stitches if you have a cut that bleeds enough to soak through a bandage and keeps bleeding even after you apply direct pressure for 5 to 10 minutes. If you need stitches, you need to visit the emergency room or an urgent care center for medical attention.

When you sustain an injury that may need stitches, you can be prepared with a Mira membership! For as low as $25 average per month, Mira offers low-cost urgent care services for when you need care on short notice, but don’t want to pay emergency room prices.

How to Tell if You Need Stitches

There are four common types of wounds that often need stitches to heal properly. They include lacerations, punctures, skin tears, and abrasions. The two main questions to ask yourself when determining if you need stitches are:

  • How big is the wound?
  • How badly is the wound bleeding?

When examining the wound, you should get it checked out by a doctor if the cut looks:

  • Very deep (even if it doesn’t seem too long or wide)
  • Is more than a half-inch long
  • Opens so wide that you can’t get the edges together with just a little pressure
  • Has ragged edges
  • Has debris in it such as dirt, glass, or gravel

You’ll likely need stitches if the wound:

  • Bleeds enough to soak through a bandage
  • Keeps bleeding even after you apply direct pressure for 5 to 10 minutes
  • Spurts blood

Where To Go If You Need Stitches

Where you should go for stitches depends on how serious the cut is and where it’s located. You will likely need to go to an ER to get stitches if:

  • Your cut is extremely deep
  • Is spurting bright red blood
  • Has torn edges

Additionally, if your wound is located on a joint, your face, scalp, and exposes muscles or veins, you will need to go to the ER to get stitches. Urgent care clinics are the place to go for shallow, straight cuts without embedded objects.

What To Do For a Severe Cut

In the case of a severe cut, Dr. Sanul Corrielus, MD, MBA, FACC, offers guidance on initial care. If you aren’t sure if you need stitches, he recommends following these three steps:

Step 1: Use warm water to wash the cut, then pat it dry using a clean towel. Avoid using anything that might stick to the wound, such as cotton balls. Don’t use iodine or hydrogen peroxide; these products only irritate the wound.

Step 2: When the cut is clean, apply gentle pressure to stop the bleeding. For example, gauze or a small washcloth can be placed on the wound with firm, steady pressure applied until the bleeding stops. Try to raise the wound above the heart, which will help to slow or stop the bleeding.

Step 3: Once the bleeding has stopped, examine the wound to check the shape of the edges. If the wound has smooth edges and stays together during normal movement, the wound will likely be able to heal without professional medical treatment or stitches.

*Keep in mind that if medical attention is required, it is best to visit an emergency room or urgent care center within 6 to 8 hours of injury. Early treatment is essential to avoid common complications, such as infection.

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Stitches Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

In most situations, at-home treatment with bandaids and Neosporin will treat a cut, but there are times when injuries require medical attention and likely stitches. If your injury looks concerning based on the criteria written in this article, you should see a medical professional right away.

Does my health insurance cover stitches?

Stitches are covered by most health insurance plans. If you have health insurance, you will likely pay the copay for the doctor visit or ER fee, and coinsurance of 10-50% for the procedure. Without insurance, stitches typically cost $200-$3,000. Some providers will also charge a fee to remove the stitches.

How should I care for my wound on the way to the doctor?

Victoria Glass, M.D., recommends a few things you can do on your way to a doctor if you notice you need stitches:

  • If you have an object sticking through your skin, leave it in. Taking it out may lead to excessive blood loss and death in worst-case scenarios.
  • Keep applying direct pressure to the wound to reduce the bleeding.
  • Clean the wound to prevent it from being infected, which may lead to more complications. Run cold water on the wound or part dry with a clean towel. Avoid anything fluffy so it doesn't get into the wound.
  • Don't drink or eat anything, especially for kids because they may have to wait longer for treatment.
  • Take something for the pain, like ibuprofen or Tylenol, but make sure to speak with your doctor first if you have any underlying medical conditions.
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Will I need a tetanus shot?

It is possible you will need a tetanus shot in addition to stitches. A tetanus vaccine protects against the bacterial infection tetanus which causes painful muscle spasms and can lead to death.

Tetanus shots are standard for children, and adults need boosters every 10 years. You might need an additional shot if you sustain a wound from:

  • An animal or human bite
  • A dirty or rusty object
  • A pointed object that might have driven deep into the skin, especially if the wound happened through the bottom of a shoe (stepping on a nail, for example).

Is my cut infected?

If your cut gets dirty or is exposed to bacteria, you run the risk of infection. You should seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms after a cut or wound:

  • Chills or fever of 100 F or higher
  • Red streaks near the wound
  • Skin gets redder or more painful
  • Sore is warm, swollen, or oozing pus
  • Feeling like you’re going to throw up

Bottom Line

Large, bleeding wounds can be scary and you may need stitches depending on how big the injury is and how much it’s bleeding. It is always better to seek medical attention if you are concerned.

Urgent care is an option when you need immediate care, and possibly stitches. Mira can help you get affordable care, whenever you may need it for a small monthly fee. A membership also grants you access to discounted prescriptions, low-cost lab testing, and now, virtual care!

Alexis Bryan

Alexis Bryan MPH, is a recent graduate of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. She is passionate about increasing access to care to improve health outcomes. Outside of work, she loves to travel, read, and pay too much attention to her plants.