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How Can I Tell if My Child Needs Stitches?

How can I tell if my child needs stitches for a cut?
- Andrea

Between the playground, sports, and the rough-and-tumble of everyday life, kids end up with bruises, scrapes, and cuts from time to time. While these often require little more than some disinfectant and a bandage, it's important to know when a cut might need medical attention or even a few stitches.

Your child may need stitches if the cut:

  • is still bleeding after you apply pressure for 5 minutes
  • is gaping or wide
  • appears deep
  • is on your child's face or neck
  • contains glass or other debris
  • has an object sticking out of it, such as a twig
  • spurts blood

If a cut is spurting blood, it may be because an artery has been nicked. The wound should be treated and stitched immediately so that its edges can come together and heal properly.

A common concern with cuts is whether a tetanus shot is necessary. A child who has not had a tetanus shot within the last 5 years might need one to protect against infection. A child may also need a shot if the wound was caused by rusty metal, is contaminated with dirt or saliva, or is a bite from an animal. The tetanus shot must be given within 48 hours after the wound occurred. But the sooner the shot is given, the better, as it will help to lower the risk of infection.

These guidelines can help you determine whether your child needs immediate medical attention, but ultimately, doctors in your local clinic or emergency room are the ones who can best decide whether a cut needs stitches.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2012

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Although we can't reply personally, you may see your question posted to this page in the future. If you're looking for medical advice, a diagnosis, or treatment, consult your doctor or other qualified medical professional. If this is an emergency, contact emergency services in your area.