Does Your Kid Need Stitches or Skin Glue?

Stitches are the most common way to close up a cut, but skin glue can provide an alternative for smaller cuts. Wanchai Orsuk/Shutterstock

There's an age-old question asked by parents of accident-prone kids everywhere: stitches or glue? First, let's discuss what to do in case your child gets hurt in a way that a Band-Aid can't solve. Getting to the emergency room or urgent care is key in the case of an injury on the head, since they'll probably need a CT scan to make sure there is no internal damage. Even if you're sure it just needs to be closed up, it's best to get the wound stitched up quickly to help it heal better.

When it's time to close it up, doctors will often give you the option of stitches or glue, but they might not always tell you what's in the fine print of each. With that in mind, here are the pros and cons of each method

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Stitches are loops of thread that surgeons will use to sew a wound closed. They are usually the preferred closing method over an areas of high tension, like on a hand or a hairline. Stitches can also be necessary on the mucous membranes of the lip and areas in the mouth, which are constantly wet, on a very deep cut involving muscles or tendons underneath the skin, an infected wound or one that has a jagged edge. If the wound is similar to the aforementioned, the doctor will usually only offer stitches, but if it's not one of those places — it's on your son's leg, for instance — skin glue may be in order.

Skin glue is becoming more popular on smaller cuts since it involves no pain (no injectable numbing medication is necessary as it is before stitches) and it's very quick. It's a great option for a cut that is not so visible or one that's relatively small.

What if the doc gives you the option to choose? You may want to choose stitches for a cut on your child's face, since the immobility of the stitches will help the wound heal more symmetrically and will usually leave less of a scar. If it's not visible, or you just can't bear the thought of your little one in a papoose (sort of a strait-jacket type contraption used to hold your child steady while the doctor stitches them up), you may opt for glue.

Either way, your child's wound will scar, and it's important to follow up with daily massage. (My plastic surgeon told me that I should massage the scar for 10 seconds 10 times a day.) In addition, use sunscreen liberally every day, since the sun can make your child’s scar darker and more prominent.

Finally, if your child's wounds are in a visible place, like on his cheek or forehead, you may want to ensure a plastic surgeon does the repair, since she will be more skilled in repairs in high-tension areas. In a lot of cities, a plastic surgeon will offer a "quick-stitch" service so you can get your child's wound closed up without stepping foot in an emergency room.

If you do choose stitches, be sure to maintain calm as your child will likely be freaking out and you need to be her lighthouse in stormy water. The experience will most definitely not be fun, but at the very least, you and your child will have a scary story with a happy ending to share at the next family gathering.