Stitches, or sutures, join the edges of a wound together to repair it and stop any bleeding. However, they can sometimes become infected.
In this article, we discuss the symptoms of infected stitches in more detail. We also cover the treatment options available and how to prevent an infection.
The skin serves as a barrier, protecting against infecting organisms. When there is a break in the skin from an injury or incision, bacteria can enter the wound, resulting in tissue inflammation or infection.
An individual with infected stitches may have:
- redness or red streaks around the area
- tender and swollen lymph nodes closest to the location of the stitches
- pain when they touch the stitches or move the injured area
- swelling, a feeling of warmth, or pain on or around the stitches
- yellow or green drainage coming from the wound
- a bad smell coming from the repaired area
A person may have a higher risk of developing an infection if they:
- have overweight
- have a compromised immune system
- have diabetes
It is important for a person to seek medical help at the first sign of infection. Without treatment, this infection may lead to:
Although this bacterial infection is serious, it is rare.
Early symptoms include:
- severe pain
- red, swollen, and warm skin in the affected area
If doctors do not treat it in time, later symptoms include:
Treatment includes antibiotics and surgery. If the antibiotics do not reach all areas of the infection, a surgeon may have to perform a procedure to remove the dead skin.
Sepsis is another complication of an infected wound. It occurs when the body has an extreme response to an infection.
- increased heart rate
- chills and shivering
- severe pain
- shortness of breath
- clammy skin
Treatment includes taking antibiotics and treating the infected area.
A person should seek medical help if:
- the wound reopens
- they develop a fever
- the wound becomes red and swollen
- the wound looks the same 5 days after getting the stitches
- the stitches come out before they should
- pus and oozing increase
Depending on how the wound occurred, a tetanus shot might be necessary.
The treatment of infected stitches depends on the severity of the infection. A doctor should clean the area and remove any pus that is present.
For stitches that are mildly infected or only involve the skin’s outer layer, a person can treat the infection using prescription antibiotic cream.
If the infection has spread deeper below the stitches, a doctor will likely prescribe oral antibiotics.
A person who develops a severe infection may require hospitalization for special care and intravenous medications.
In most cases, healthcare professionals will cover stitched wounds with an antibiotic ointment and a bandaid or nonstick gauze.
A person will need to look after the stitches and the wound site to prevent an infection from developing.
They can do this by:
- keeping the stitches covered and dry for the first 24 hours
- cleaning the stitches gently with mild soap and water
- avoiding perfumed soaps, alcohol wipes, iodine, and peroxide
- patting the area dry gently with a fresh towel after cleaning
- using only ointments that a healthcare professional has recommended or prescribed
- refraining from touching or scratching at the stitches
- avoiding baths, swimming, and other activities that place the stitches underwater
- avoiding any activity or sport that could cause the stitches to come apart
Below are recommended time frames for suture removal:
|Area||Time for removal|
|Torso — including back, chest, and abdomen||10–14 days|
|Hands and feet||10–14 days|
|Palms and soles||14–21 days|
Some stitches are absorbable. These stitches dissolve over time and do not need removing.
Doctors commonly use stitches as a way to close a cut or incision.
A person needs to keep the stitches clean to help the area heal without developing an infection.
Any individual experiencing pain, swelling, redness, or pus around their stitches should see a doctor.