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Stitches are used after many different types of surgeries to close wounds or incisions. The term “stitches” actually refers to the medical procedure of closing wounds with sutures. Sutures are the materials used to close the incision.
Although stitches are common, they still require special medical attention. Removing your own stitches comes with risk. Most doctors prefer you have stitches removed in their office, but not everyone heeds that advice.
If you decide to remove your own stitches, it’s important you keep a few things in mind. Here, we break down when stitches are typically removed, warning signs that something is wrong, and what to do if removing your stitches doesn’t work.
In general, removing your own stitches isn’t a good idea. When doctors remove stitches, they’re looking for signs of infection, proper healing, and wound closure.
If you try to remove your stitches at home, your doctor won’t be able to conduct their final follow-up. Still, some people choose to remove their own stitches.
You can do so, but be sure to discuss your plans with your doctor first. Your doctor can provide recommendations and instructions so that you remove your stitches properly.
They can also give you tips on preventing infection or scarring if your stitches are removed prematurely. If you find that your wound isn’t healed, your doctor will need to reapply stitches to help finish healing.
If you plan to remove your own stitches, you should keep these pointers in mind:
Make sure it’s time: If you remove your stitches too early, your wound may reopen, you could cause an infection, or you may make scarring worse. Confirm with your doctor how many days you should wait before removing stitches. If your wound looks swollen or red, don’t remove your stitches. See your doctor as soon as you can.
Collect the proper equipment: Though you may have decided to skip the doctor’s appointment, you should still treat this procedure with caution. You’ll need sharp scissors, tweezers, rubbing alcohol, cotton swabs, and adhesive bandages.
Get instructions: Ask your doctor or medical provider for step-by-step instructions for removing your own stitches. Follow those instructions so you don’t create additional problems.
When in doubt, seek help: If you have difficulty removing your stitches or notice something unusual, stop what you’re doing and seek medical advice.
Sutures, or stitches, are either absorbable or nonabsorbable. Absorbable sutures are often used for internal stitching. The material of absorbable sutures is designed to break down over time and dissolve. Nonabsorbable sutures must be removed. They won’t dissolve.
The process for removing nonabsorbable sutures is quite simple whether you do it yourself or have it done at a doctor’s office:
1. Gather your materials
You need sharp scissors. Surgical scissors are best. Nail trimmers or clippers might also work. Collect tweezers, rubbing alcohol, cotton swabs, and adhesive bandages or adhesive strips. You may also want to have antibiotic ointment on hand.
2. Sterilize your materials
Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil. Drop in all metal utensils, and let them sit for a few minutes. Remove the utensils, and use a clean paper towel to dry them. Pour a bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab, and wipe down the tips of the utensils.
3. Wash and sterilize the suture site
Use soapy hot water to wash the spot where you have stitches. Dry it with a clean towel. Pour rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab, and wipe down the area.
4. Find a good spot
Sit in an area of your home where you can see the suture site clearly. If the stitches are on a part of your body you’re unable to easily reach, ask a friend or family member to help.
5. Snip and slip the stitches
Using the tweezers, pull gently up on each knot. Slip the scissors into the loop, and snip the stitch. Gently tug on the thread until the suture slips through your skin and out. You may feel slight pressure during this, but removing stitches is rarely painful. Don’t pull the knot through your skin. This could be painful and cause bleeding.
6. Stop if you start bleeding
If you begin bleeding after removing a stitch, stop what you’re doing. If your wound opens up after you remove a stitch, stop and apply an adhesive bandage. Call your doctor’s office and ask for directions.
7. Clean the area
Once all the stitches are removed, clean the wound area thoroughly with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball. If you have antibiotic ointment on hand, apply it to the area.
8. Protect the wound
You may want to apply adhesive strips across the wound to help prevent it from reopening. These can remain on until they fall off naturally or after two weeks. Soaking them in warm water will loosen them for easier removal.
The skin around an incision is very weak during healing, but it will regain strength over time. Protect the area by covering it with a bandage for at least five days.
Your wound could swell, bleed, or split open if it’s stretched or bumped, so avoid activities that could cause damage.
Keep the wound clean and dry. Avoid getting it dirty. Don’t expose the wound to direct sunlight. The skin around your incision is very sensitive while it’s healing. It can and will burn more easily in sunlight than the rest of your skin.
Some doctors recommend that you apply vitamin E lotion to help speed healing and reduce scarring. Before you use this alternative treatment, consult your doctor. You may be sensitive to it and should avoid it. Or your doctor may have a different recommendation.
If you develop fever or notice redness, swelling, pain, red streaks, or draining from the wound before or after you remove the stitches, consult your doctor immediately. You may have an infection that should be treated.
If the wound reopens after you remove your stitches, see your doctor as soon as you can. You may need additional stitches to help the wound close again.