Infected Stitches

Avoiding And Treating Infected Stitches

Infected stitches most often occur if adequate precautions haven't been taken in keeping the area around the wound that has stitches clean. Stitches are normally required when a wound is sufficiently large that clotting may be difficult, or the wound is such that it needs to be closed for cosmetic purposes, Stitches can be either external, in the skin,  usually to close a wound, in the mouth following tooth extraction or oral surgery, and internally following surgery. External stitches are normally removed within one to two weeks. Internal stitches and those in the mouth are most often of the type that dissolves over the same period of time.


Keeping The Area Clean And Dry - When stitches are necessary and the process is done in a doctor's office or the hospital, a topical antiseptic is usually applied to the area. Most often this is an antiseptic known as betadine, an effective germ killer. Betadine is an ointment which, in addition to sterilizing the area, helps keep the stitched area soft and flexible during the initial stages of the healing process. In the case of external stitches, once the initial antiseptic has been applied, it usually then becomes the patient's responsibility to care for the wounded area. This means keeping the area clean and keeping it dry. If the wound has been bandaged it's good practice to leave the bandage on for at least 24 hours, unless other directions have been given. The bandage of course will help in keeping the wound and stitches clean. Wounds initially covered with a bandage will also heal faster, though many people have been taught that the opposite is true.

A 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide is excellent for periodic cleansing of the stitched area, after which an over the counter antibiotic ointment can be applied to help keep the area germ free. Even in the case of infected stitches, this process will help in keeping the infection somewhat in check, though if infection is present the doctor should be notified.


Besides keeping the area clean, the healing process will be hastened if the wound area and the stitches are kept dry. Usually patients are advised not to swim or take baths for a few days after stitches have been put in place. Showers are usually all right as long as the stitches are dried right away. There are a couple of instances however where keeping stitches dry is not only difficult but impossible.

Special Case – Oral Surgery - A person having oral surgery or a tooth extraction, particularly a wisdom tooth extraction, often requires stitches. These stitches are usually of the type that will dissolve in a week or so. In the meantime, the wound area must be kept as clean as possible. Obviously it cannot be kept dry. What you put in your mouth is therefore of importance, both from the standpoint of hygiene, and from the standpoint of keeping the stitches and wounded area undisturbed. Tobacco products can cause major problems in the mouth if the wound hasn't healed. Even mouthwashes are advised against for a couple of days, though a salt water solution gently swished in the mouth is recommended. Chewing food, eating hard candy, even bread crusts, can disturb the stitches, affecting the healing process and even leading to infected stitches. The oral surgeon will usually give detailed advice as how to manage your mouth for the week or so following surgery.

Special Case – A Hysterectomy - The aftermath of a hysterectomy is another instance in which it is impossible to keep stitches dry, and it can be a challenge keeping them free of infection. Application of an antibiotic to the area where the incision has been made is usually all that may be required. The possibility of stitch infection due to the presence of a yeast is very real though. The symptoms of infected stitches in this case will usually be a burning or itching sensation, perhaps accompanied by swelling. Application of an anti-fungal cream over a several days, perhaps a week, usually resolves the problem.

For that matter, in the cases of those stitches you can readily observe, signs of infected stitches are generally easy to spot. Redness, discoloration, or small pus pockets, are sure signs of infection, and the area will almost always be sore to the touch. In seldom cases, stitches may become infected no matter how careful you are or how careful the doctor has been. That is simply a fact of life.