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Incision Care

Remember: Follow-up visits allow your doctor to make sure your incision is healing well. Be sure to keep your appointments.

Sutures (stitches), surgical staples, adhesive tapes, or surgical glue may be used to close incisions. They also help stop bleeding and speed healing. Instead of sutures, your wound may have been closed with special strips of tape called Steri-Strips. Treat these the same way you would sutures. To help your incision heal, follow the tips on this handout.

Image of incision with Steri-Strips.

Keeping your incision clean and dry

  • Avoid doing things that could cause dirt or sweat to get on your incision.

  • Don’t pick at scabs. They help protect the wound.

  • Keep your incision out of water. Bathe or shower only as directed.

  • To keep the wound dry when around water, cover it with a plastic bag. Take the plastic bag off when you are not around water. You could also use rubber gloves to protect sutures on a hand.

  • If sutures get damp, pat them dry.

Image of washing hands

Changing your dressing

Leave the dressing (bandage) in place until you are told to remove it or change it. Change it only as directed, using clean hands.

  • After the first 48 hours the incision wound usually will have closed. At this point, leave the incision uncovered and open to the air. If the incision has not closed keep it covered.

  • Cover your incision only if your clothing is rubbing it or causing irritation.

  • Change your dressing if it gets wet or soiled.

When to seek medical care

Call your health care provider if you notice any of these signs:

  • The wound opens spontaneously

  • Increased soreness, pain, or tenderness after 24 hours

  • A red streak, increased redness, or puffiness near the wound

  • White, yellowish, or foul-smelling discharge from the wound

  • Bleeding that can’t be stopped by applying pressure

  • Steri-Strips fall off or stitches dissolve before the wound heals

  • Fever above 101.5°F (38.6°C)


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