Incision Care

Remember: Follow-up visits allow your healthcare provider to make sure your incision is healing well. Keep your appointments.

Home care

Tips for home care include the following:

  • Always wash with soap and dry your hands before touching your incision.

  • Keep your incision clean and dry.

  • Don't do 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 dry, and out of water.

  • Take a sponge bath to avoid getting your incision wet.

  • Ask your provider when can you take a shower or bath.

  • Ask your provider about the best way to keep your incision dry when bathing or showering.

  • Pat stitches dry if they get wet. Don’t rub.

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

  • After the first 12 hours, change your dressing every 24 hours, or as directed by your healthcare provider.

  • Change your dressing if it gets wet or soiled.

Care for types of closures

Follow these guidelines:

  • Stitches or staples. Once you no longer need to keep these dry, clean the wound daily. First remove the bandage using clean hands. Then wash the area gently with soap and warm water. Finally, put on a new bandage.

  • Skin glue. Don’t put liquid, ointment, or cream on your wound while the glue is in place. Don't do activities that cause heavy sweating. Protect the wound from sunlight. Do not scratch, rub, or pick at the glue. Do not put tape directly over the glue. The glue should peel off within 5 to 10 days.

  • Surgical tape. Keep the area dry. If it gets wet, blot the area dry with a clean towel. Surgical tape usually falls off within 7 to 10 days. If it has not fallen off after 10 days, contact your healthcare provider before taking it off yourself. If you are told to remove the tape, put mineral oil or petroleum jelly on a cotton ball. Gently rub the tape until it is removed.

Changing your dressing

Leave the dressing (bandage) in place until you are told to remove it or change it. Follow the instructions below unless told otherwise by your healthcare provider:

  • Always wash your hands before changing your dressing.

  • After the first 48 hours, the incision wound usually will have closed. If it has, uncover the incision and leave it 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, or if it is still draining.

  • Change your dressing if it gets wet or soiled.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider to ask how long sutures or staples should be left in place. Be sure to return for stitch or staple removal as directed. If dissolving stitches were used in an area such as your mouth, these will not need to be removed. They should fall out or dissolve on their own.

If tape closures were used, remove them yourself when your provider recommends if they have not fallen off on their own. If skin glue was used, the glue will wear off by itself.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the below:

  • Pain, redness, swelling, or bleeding that gets worse

  • Smelly fluid from the incision

  • Fever of 100.4°F ( 38ºC) or higher

  • Shaking or chills

  • Vomiting or nausea that doesn't go away

  • Numbness, coldness, or tingling around the incision

  • Changes in skin color around the incision

  • Opening of the wound

  • Stitches that pull apart

  • Staples that fall out

  • Surgical tape that falls off before 7 days