It's a rite of passage for many rough-and-tumble kids: their first trip to the ER to have a nasty gash closed up. The rite of passage for their parents? Figuring out the differences between stitches, staples, and glue. A quick primer, from Christopher Haines, D.O., director of the department of emergency medicine at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, in Philadelphia:
When used: Sutures are preferred for gaping cuts because the thread and needle sizes can be tailored to the wounds.
What to know: You really need to request a plastic surgeon only for cuts on the eyelids, nostrils, or lips (but many parents prefer a plastics doc for any sort of facial gash). Be sure to have the stitches removed on time (usually in five to seven days). Sutures left in too long can cause those train-track-type scars.
When used: Primarily on scalp lacerations, where precision alignment is not as essential because hair will cover the scar. Staples can be placed much more quickly than stitches -- a big plus when you're treating a squirmy, scared kiddo (and nervous parents).
What to know: Though they look pretty hideous, the staples won't be uncomfortable for your child. Like stitches, they also must be removed on time to minimize scarring.
When used: On smaller, shallow lacerations in "low-tension" areas that aren't likely to separate easily. Glue isn't used on knees, elbows, ankles, or around the mouth, for example.
What to know: Contrary to popular belief, adhesives don't necessarily scar less. Glue also should not be used to treat "dirty" wounds (such as after a bike or car collision, when small particles may embed in the skin) because it can trap infection inside.