Splinter injuries may seem minor, but they can be painful and lead to complications if they get infected. Children tend to get lots of splinters, but adults get them too — especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors.
Here’s what you need to know about splinters and how to deal with them.
Splinter Injuries and Complications
A splinter injury happens when a small, sharp piece of wood, glass, or metal gets embedded in your skin. It could be from a broken cup, an old picnic table, or a fishhook. People also get splinter injuries from thorns and spines on plants.
You can get a splinter anywhere — gardening, walking on the beach, or reaching into a drawer. Splinters can cause a surprising amount of pain, especially ones that are deep or enter the body at a right angle.
In general, splinters aren’t serious injuries. But it’s important to remove the splinter as soon as possible.
If a splinter stays under the skin, it can let bacteria in and cause an infection. You could even develop tetanus from bacteria entering a small break in the skin.
Never Miss a Beat!
Subscribe to Our HealthBeat Newsletter!
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
How to Remove a Splinter
If you or your child has a splinter, act as quickly as possible to lessen the chance of infection. Here’s how to remove a splinter at home or on the go.
- Clean the wound (and your hands) with soap and water. Use an alcohol pad if you’re not near water.
- Sterilize a pair of tweezers and a needle by pouring boiling water over them. If you’re camping or hiking, wipe them off with an alcohol pad from your first aid kit.
- If the splinter isn’t sticking out of the skin, use the needle to gently remove the skin over the splinter. Then carefully lift up the end of the splinter with the needle.
- Use the tweezers to grasp the splinter.
- Pull the splinter out at the same angle it went in.
- Check that the whole splinter came out.
- Wash the area again with soap and water and pat it dry. Use an alcohol pad if you’re not near water, or wash it as soon as you can get to clean water.
- Apply an antibiotic ointment and a clean bandage.
How to Remove a Splinter Without Tweezers
Sometimes it’s difficult to get a splinter out with tweezers. And many children get upset at the sight of needles and tweezers. If that’s the case, here are a few other methods to try.
- Tape. Touch the area lightly with packing tape, duct tape, or any other very sticky tape. It may be enough to grasp the splinter and pull it out. This method is especially good for fragile splinters from plants and fiberglass.
- Wax hair remover. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests this method if tape doesn’t work. Apply a wax hair remover strip and let it air dry for five minutes (or dry with a hair dryer). Then peel it back to remove the splinter.
- Epsom salts. Dissolve a cup of Epsom salts in a tub of warm water and soak the area around the splinter for about 10 minutes. The salt creates osmotic pressure on the skin, which helps draw foreign bodies to the surface. Even if the splinter doesn’t work itself completely out, it may be easier to remove.
When to Seek Medical Help for a Splinter
Sometimes removing a splinter isn’t a do-it-yourself task. A doctor will know how to remove a deep splinter or one that’s complicated to get out (like a fishhook). You should see a doctor if:
- You are unable to remove the splinter.
- You’ve removed the splinter but the pain is getting worse.
- The area shows signs of infection (red, swollen, warm to the touch, not healing, or oozing pus).
- You have a fever.
- If the splinter is near your eye. (If the splinter is in your eye, you should get to an emergency room as soon as possible.)
- The wound is bleeding profusely.
How to Prevent Splinters
The best way to avoid splinters is to protect your hands and feet during certain activities. You should:
- Wear eye goggles when using power tools.
- Never walk barefoot on wooden decks or boardwalks.
- Wear water shoes in the ocean or other bodies of water.
- Wear gloves when working with fiberglass.
- Wear garden gloves when handling plants.
- Stay up to date with tetanus shots.
American Academy of Dermatology, How to Remove a Splinter, Link
American Academy of Pediatrics, Sliver or Splinter Care Advice, Link
National Library of Medicine, Splinter Removal, Link
American Academy of Pediatrics, Splinters and Other Foreign Bodies in the Skin, Link
AARP, Remember Epsom Salt? Old-Time Cure Gets New Life, Link
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.