Dissolvable Stitches Guide: Care Tips and Preventing Complications

Medically Reviewed By Darragh O'Carroll, MD

Dissolvable stitches are types of sutures the body can absorb. They do not require removal at a later time. While this can be useful, there are times when they are not a great option for closing a wound. Dissolvable stitches have both advantages and disadvantages.

A hand showing stitches for a thumb wound
Alita /Stocksy United

This article provides an overview of dissolvable stitches, including how long they last and care tips.

What are dissolvable stitches?

Dissolvable stitches are sutures the body can harmlessly absorb. This means you do not have to connect with a doctor to remove them. The other terms for them are, “absorbable sutures” and “dissolvable sutures.”

There are both Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  natural and synthetic dissolvable stitches. In either case, the material is absorbable because the body can break it down.

For natural animal tissue stitches, the process is proteolysis. This means the body has enzymes that break down the proteins in natural stitches.

Hydrolysis breaks down synthetic versions. This means the material reacts with water and degrades.

“Dissolvable” does not mean “no care necessary,” though. Taking good care of your stitches and the wound can prevent infection and ensure the best possible cosmetic outcome.

When and where are dissolvable stitches used?

For most wound closures, nonabsorbable sutures are the preferred Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  choice. They provide more strength than absorbable ones. However, there are times when absorbable sutures are more suitable.

Dissolvable stitches are useful Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  for closing wounds under the skin’s surface and other places that are difficult to access. They can also bring stability to a deep wound as part of a multilayer closure. 

While there are no hard rules, doctors generally use absorbable sutures for the following:

  • deep wounds to keep these tissues stable as part of a multilayer closure with nonabsorbable sutures at the surface
  • internal wounds on organs, such as the stomach, bowel, or bladder
  • wounds inside the mouth
  • wounds with a high infection risk

Doctors usually need stronger and more durable nonabsorbable sutures for the following:

  • bone-anchoring sutures
  • fascia, tendon, or ligament repair
  • permanent closure of tubular structures, such as blood vessels or fallopian tubes
  • superficial wound closure

Are dissolvable stitches better than nonabsorbable sutures?

Both forms of sutures have advantages and disadvantages.

There are also considerations for sutures that are single strand versus braided or multifilament sutures. Ultimately, your doctor will decide which may work for your individual scenario.

Nonabsorbable stitches

Nonabsorbable stitches provide more strength Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source and support. However, a doctor must remove them. Their continued presence in tissue can lead to inflammation and infection.

Absorbable sutures

Absorbable sutures will disappear with time. That timing is variable over weeks or months, depending on the material. This makes them useful for internal and deep wounds because you do not need to access them and remove them.

However, they can cause skin sensitivity in the form of inflammation, and possible scarring, in superficial tissues. A rapid-absorbing synthetic suture may counterbalance this effect.

Experts may prefer absorbable stitches for children, particularly for facial cuts. With absorbable stitches, a child does not need an anesthetic to remove nonabsorbable stitches.

How do you care for dissolvable stitches?

Follow these seven self-care tips for dissolvable stitches. 

1. Keep your stitches clean

It is important to keep dirt and germs out of your wound. It may be a good idea to cover your stitches with a loose piece of gauze, especially at first. The gauze can keep debris out of your wound and can absorb any bleeding or drainage.

Change the gauze when it soils or saturates. Wearing gauze or a bandage over your incision can also prevent snagging on clothing.

Always wash your hands and dry them with a clean towel before touching your stitches.

2. Keep your stitches mostly dry

In general, avoid showering or bathing for at least 48 hours after getting dissolvable stitches. After that, showering is fine, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

You do not have to cover your stitches in the shower. Let the water run gently over your stitches and incision. You can also wash the area with mild soap. Do not scrub vigorously. After your shower, pat dry with a clean towel. It is not a good idea to soak your stitches in a tub. However, if you can keep your stitches out of the water, a bath is fine.

Also, experts do not recommend using an antibiotic ointment on dissolvable stitches. The ointment can speed up softening of stitches, shortening the time for them to secure a healing wound.

3. Put contact sports on hold

Your stitches hold the edges of a wound together so that it can heal well. Bumping or otherwise disturbing the area can cause the edges of the wound to separate, which could impede healing.

Follow your doctor’s advice regarding activity. In most cases, you will need to avoid contact sports. Skip swimming for a while as well. 

4. Do not pick at your stitches

As your wound heals, you will likely experience some pulling and itching sensations. You may also notice crusty material forming between your stitches.

Do not scratch or pick at your stitches, no matter how tempting. You could disturb the healing process and introduce infection. An oral antihistamine may help calm the itchiness.

Follow your doctor’s advice for cleaning the wound and using topical antihistamine or anti-itch creams.

5. Clean your wound as directed

If your dissolvable stitches are deep inside, you will not have to do anything with them. If your dissolvable stitches are accessible, though, your doctor might recommend that you clean the area on a regular basis.

After the first 24 hours, use clean water or soap and water to gently clean the wound. Gently pat it dry afterward.

6. Watch for symptoms of infection

Be alert for symptoms of infection, including redness or discoloration, a foul odor, swelling, increased pain, and fever. Generally, your wound should look a little better each day.

If your wound starts to look worse, or if you notice any symptoms of infection, contact your doctor. An untreated infection can lead to complications. Prompt treatment can get your healing back on track.

7. Be patient

Most dissolvable stitches are gone within 1 or 2 weeks. However, some stitches persist for more weeks or even months. Ask your doctor how long it will take for your stitches to dissolve. If your stitches are still in place a few days after that estimated date, contact your doctor.

Do not pick at your stitches, even if they look like they are falling out. Touching your stitches increases the risk of infection.

What are the potential complications of dissolvable stitches?

Absorbable sutures can cause more inflammation Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source than nonabsorbable ones in superficial tissues. This can lead to scarring. However, research does not show a big difference between them in cosmetic outcomes, complications, scars, and treatment satisfaction.

When to contact a doctor about your dissolvable stitches

In most cases, absorbable sutures dissolve and do not require removal. Once your wound heals, contact your doctor if the stitches irritate you. It may be possible to remove them.

Frequently asked questions

Here are questions people often ask about dissolvable stitches.

How long do dissolvable stitches need to stay dry? 

In general, stitches need to stay dry for the first 48 hours. After that, they can get wet as long as you do not soak them in a bath, swimming pool, or other deep water.

How do I know if my stitch is dissolvable? 

Your doctor will tell you if your sutures are absorbable or not. You will get instructions on when to return for removal if they are nonabsorbable. This can range from a few days to 2 weeks.

Can dissolvable stitches cause infection?

An infection can develop in any wound with or without stitches. Keeping the wound clean and dry will reduce the risk of infection.

Summary

Dissolvable stitches are an option for doctors to use when closing a wound. Your body will absorb them with time. So, they have the advantage of not requiring removal. This can be a good option for internal and deep tissue wound closures. For superficial wounds with stitches, keeping it clean and dry as directed will aid wound healing.

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Medical Reviewer: Darragh O'Carroll, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 May 23
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