You’re chopping food for dinner and slice yourself with a knife by accident — how do you know if you just bandage it up or need to see a doctor to get stitches?

Most minor cuts and abrasions don’t need a doctor’s care. But a visit to the doctor is in order if:

  • The wound is on your face.
  • The wound hasn’t stopped bleeding after ten minutes of direct pressure.
  • The edges of the cut are jagged or gape open, the cut is deep (1/4 inch or more), or you can see fat or muscle. These are signs that you may need stitches.
  • You can’t get all of the dirt or debris out of the wound.
  • You have a puncture wound or a cut and haven’t had a tetanus shot in the past 5 years.
  • The wound is from an animal bite.
  • The injured area feels numb.

After examining the wound, your doctor will clean it and possibly prescribe oral antibiotics. Most importantly, the doctor will assess the injury to see if you need stitches to help it heal faster and leave less of a visible scar. Stitches are common in the following cases:

  • The cut is deeper than a quarter of an inch
  • The cut was made by a dirty or rusty object and there is a risk of infection
  • Fat, muscle or bone are visible due to the wound

Stitches are often removed after 5 to 10 days, but this depends on where they are — the doctor will let you know when they should be removed. Alternatives to stitches include adhesive tape, staples, or liquid skin adhesives that work like glue. Liquid adhesives don’t need to be removed.