If you’re unfortunate enough to sustain a wound from cutting or puncturing, or if you had to go through a surgical procedure, you will need to get a stitch. And while stitching is definitely the right procedure, it comes with its own set of problems. Namely, even the cleanest of sutures might end up as the cause of an infection. And an infection is the last thing you need when your wound is trying to heal.
Stitch infection is not uncommon, with the rate of postoperative sutures being as high as 5%. So, if you recognize an infected stitch, you should seek immediate medical attention and antibacterial treatment. But telling healthy stitches and infected stitches apart isn’t easy. In this article, you will learn how to differentiate between the two.
Healthy Stitches vs. Infected Stitches: How to Tell Them Apart?
1. The Stitched Spot Feels Hot
As you will see, nearly every symptom of infection has a bit of an asterisk next to it. In other words, it might simply be a sign of your body healing naturally.
Heat is the perfect example of this process. As your wound heals, it’s natural that the stitched spot will have a temperature that’s slightly higher than the skin around it. That’s common with post-surgery sutures and even minor procedures.
However, if the heat stays there for more than five days, you will want to consult a doctor. When you have an infection, your body’s immune system sends white blood cells to combat the harmful bacteria, which increases the temperature around the damaged tissue. In other words, the excess heat is a clear sign of infection even if it’s not evident on the outside.
2. An Increase in Pain
As is the case with heat, you will expect some pain after the stitching procedure. Generally speaking, the pain should start to subside over the course of several days, or at least show a downward trend. The pain can also come about if you start doing physical activities too soon after the procedure.
In order to tell if your stitch is infected, let the pain be your indicator. If it hurts with the same intensity for more than five days, it’s probably an infection. You will also need to see a doctor if the pain seems to intensify over time or if the spot simply starts to ache for no real external reason.
3. Foul-smelling Discharge
Of all the signs that point to infected stitches, pus is probably the most obvious one. Pus forms from white blood cells, damaged cells, bacteria, and dead tissue. Sometimes, it might even contain some fungus. It’s usually green, white, or yellow in color and has a distinct, unpleasant smell.
Of course, not all discharge is pus when it comes to stitches. Healthy discharge is to be expected, but it’s usually clear and has a neutral scent. More importantly, it goes away after a few days, a clear sign that your wound is healing properly. If the infected pus keeps appearing, you will need to seek immediate medical attention.
4. Excessive Swelling and Redness
After you receive your stitch, you can expect the spot to swell and turn red for a while. As we stated earlier, the immune system helps the body heal by sending white blood cells to the area, and soon enough blood starts to coagulate. This part of the process is important, as it prepares the damaged site for tissue repair.
Swelling usually goes away after a few days, and the skin slowly regains its original hue. However, if neither of these symptoms goes away, you might be facing a bacterial infection. Normally, your doctor informs you about the acceptable levels of swelling, both before and after the procedure. Anything that goes beyond those levels ought to be a cause for concern.
Your immune system fights off the bacteria by increasing your temperature in order to kill them off. That’s not just true for the infected spot. In fact, your entire body might see a significant spike in temperature, leaving you with a fever. Minor fevers are expected after any procedure, and like all other symptoms of healing, they go away after a couple of days. Consistent fevers, however, demand medical attention.
1. Moderate Swelling
As stated earlier, the best kind of indicator in the healthy stitches vs. infected stitches discussion is moderation. The spot containing the suture will definitely swell a bit right after the procedure, and as long as the swelling goes down quickly, you’ll be perfectly fine.
2. Tissue Growth
While your wound heals, you will notice new tissue growth. That’s perfectly fine and is actually an indicator that no infection is taking place. After all, healthy tissue can only grow in a clean, contaminant-free environment.
Scabs might look like infected areas on your skin, but they are quite the opposite. A dry scab is a sign that the healing process took place without any obstruction. When you sustain a wound, it usually goes through a three-stage process:
• Bleeding commences
• The blood begins to clot
• The clotting blood begins to dry.
If you leave it alone, the scab will eventually fall off on its own, leaving no opening behind. Wet or bleeding scabs are a sign of infection and you should seek out advice from your doctor or dermatologist.
Scarring is the very last stage of healing. If your cut was severe enough to require stitching, the scar will probably be there for the rest of your life. However, it’s a sign that the wound has completely healed and that no further medical care is required.
Taking Care of Your Stitches
Comparing healthy stitches and infected stitches will help you figure out if you need medical aid or not. However, even if you see no sign of infection, it’s important to keep the stitch from any further harm. Therefore, when waiting for it to heal, make sure to do the following:
• Clean the stitch precisely as your doctor recommended
• Keep it as dry as possible
• Cover them if necessary and for however long the doctor prescribes
• Elevate the area as much as possible to let it heal faster
• Limit all physical activity to prevent the stitch from reopening.