Should I cover my stitches?
September 2, 2011 8:44 AM   Subscribe

To minimize healing time, is it better to cover stitches or not?

A moment of not respecting my Awesome German Bread Knife resulted in a trip to urgent care and 4 stitches on my middle finger. Fortunately no tendon damage, and only minor nerve damage. Knife is fine.

The doc said that I should only cover it for the first twenty-four hours, and then leave it uncovered. This is 48 hours out, and it seems to be happier covered with a band-aid. No bleeding/oozing at this point, no signs of infection, etc. The internets seem to give conflicting information about what is better. Anyone have a source of reliable information re the cover/not cover quandary?
posted by rockindata to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Assuming it is no longer an open wound, let it breathe. Covering it up creates a breeding ground for germs.
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my experience of being a total klutz (and not any experience of being a doctor), after the initial healing phase (24-48 hours, enough for the wound to no longer be gaping) is over, it's best to leave it uncovered. Let it breathe. Everything seems to heal faster and you don't get the nasty under-bandaid mush.

Even more so if your doctor specifically told you to leave it uncovered.
posted by phunniemee at 8:48 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

3rding let it breathe. I got stitches last summer and they told me to come back and get them out in a week, but when I went back, they said that it hadn't healed enough because it was covered the whole time, and to let it breathe and give it a few more days.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:07 AM on September 2, 2011

I am not a doctor. I have nevertheless endured all manner of wounds in my five plus decades on planet earth.

Once a wound stops bleeding, oozing etc, all a bandage is going to do is protect it from various collisions, contacts etc that might reopen it. So yes, if you're being active, rubbing things, bumping into things, keep some kind of a bandage on your wound. Otherwise, let the air at it.
posted by philip-random at 9:10 AM on September 2, 2011

The doc said that I should only cover it for the first twenty-four hours, and then leave it uncovered.

Do this. Though, obviously, if you're going to be handling something very acidic or alkaline, fine particulates, potentially infectious material, etc., wear gloves.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:19 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I worked in surgery all of the instructions were to keep it bandaged while there was oozing or while bathing (no soaking, period). After the oozing stops keep it aired out.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:20 AM on September 2, 2011

Another source: Preparing the wound bed 2003: focus on infection and inflammation

Note I am not a nurse, doctor, or medical researcher, so I'm not qualified to even say these articles are good or not. Just finding stuff for your consideration.
posted by Hither at 9:43 AM on September 2, 2011

are you going to be using the knife again? i would def. cover it for that...cutting open fresh stitches is WAY not fun.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:19 AM on September 2, 2011

Whenever I'm hurt, I always think my wound would be happier under a bandage. But at about 24 hours without one, I invariably feel like a bandaid would be scratchy trapping claustrophobic horribleness. Take it off per doctor's orders, feel a little uncomfortable for a day, and then continue on. Happy healing!
posted by samthemander at 10:27 AM on September 2, 2011

Definitely keep it uncovered, but also consider the moisture aspect from a non-bandage angle. If you use some sort of ointment -- NOT Neosporin, but a plain petroleum jelly-like substance (Vaseline is fine) or vitamin E -- it will help keep the edges of the wound from cracking, pulling in, getting dry, all that.

My partner had Mohs surgery on his face that left a four-inch scar. They sewed the stitches on either end into a line but left a jellybean-sized spot open in the middle to heal itself. Judicious application of the petroleum jelly (the doctor gave us a tube of the surgical version) really helped; we tried to keep it from getting crusty but leave it moist. We removed a little bit of the extra crustiness but didn't prevent scab formation, and it did very well. Now even the jellybean spot only looks like a small "regular" scar. The parts where the stitches were are barely noticeable.

Given the fact that you'll probably need to use your finger and cover it up after all, I'd recommend the Nexcare waterproof bandages. They're way more flexible than Band-Aids but have a better seal all around, so that moisture doesn't get in and give you that pruny look. You should also consider a finger cot, which lots of chefs use. Either way, though, if you don't need to protect it, leave it uncovered.
posted by Madamina at 10:34 AM on September 2, 2011

After about 24-36 hours, the gigantic stitched-up incision in my abdomen from which a baby was removed was left open to the air as much as possible. They remove the dressing (ow ow ow ow ow) and then you just use a light cotton pad to protect it/your clothes from any oozing or bumping when you need to. They also had me put some neosporin on it this time once a day after two weeks of healing because it was so hot out, they were seeing more incisions with infections loving the heat and sweat. (The first time, they did not; it was not so hot out.)

Anyway, twice now, let it air out.

You could always gently and loosely put a bit of medical gauze over it to split the difference while you get comfortable with it uncovered, and to help remind you to not bang it into things. Just don't get stuff stuck to it!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:42 AM on September 2, 2011

To minimizes healing time it is better to take the bandage off. Leaving a wound bandaged can reduce scarring but prolongs healing time.
posted by bravowhiskey at 11:01 AM on September 2, 2011

It seems there are too many variables to give a pat, yes-or-no answer. Wet and festering is bad, so avoid dressings that get wet and are not changed often. Minor trauma (knocking into things) is bad, so the covering is protective if you're using your hands a lot.

Another factor I've experienced many, many times: my skin - and my house - are so dry that I have to apply petroleum jelly and leave the bandage on, or healing cuts often crack, reopen and deepen.
posted by wjm at 12:10 PM on September 2, 2011

Response by poster: Alrighty.

Band-aid is off and a light coat of moisturizer is on. I have already broken out the padded goat gloves for working and rubber gloves for dishes.

Thanks much!
posted by rockindata at 12:49 PM on September 2, 2011

A good compromise is to keep it covered during the day while you are using your hands to do stuff, and to leave it open to the air at night while you sleep.
posted by fancyoats at 6:38 PM on September 2, 2011

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