Infected splinter finger: Splinter, First Aid Condition, Treatments and Pictures for
Splinter Removal 101 (and How to Prevent Infection)
Ouch! If you’re working outdoors or in the kitchen, at some point in your lifetime you’ll encounter a splinter. Whether a sharp sliver of wood, a glass shard or other debris, splinters can be a real nuisance.
You may be tempted to ignore a splinter, especially if it doesn’t hurt. But a foreign object embedded in your skin can put you at risk for an infection—and no one should ever want that.
“Our skin is our natural barrier against the outside world. So when the skin is broken by a cut or puncture, that barrier is broken, and bacteria can then enter the body,” said Daniel Bates, MD, a physician lead at Banner Urgent Care. “If your body’s immune system can’t destroy them fast enough, the bacteria will start feeding off your body’s nutrients, growing, multiplying and damaging surrounding tissue. That’s why it’s important to clean out wounds to remove as much contaminating bacteria as possible.”
The more you can remove, the less there is for your immune system to clean up, and the better chances you have to prevent an infection.
While many incidents of splinters turn out to be no big deal and can be safely removed at home with a good pair of tweezers, there are cases where you’ll need to see a health care specialist. Dr. Bates shared what tools you’ll need and the steps to take to safely remove a splinter at home, and when you should leave it to the experts.
The first-aid supplies you’ll need to safely remove a splinter
- Soap and water. The best thing you can do to prevent infection in any wound is to wash it out with clean running water. You can use tap water or bottled water but avoid disinfectants like alcohol, iodine and hydrogen peroxide. “This actually kills the healthy tissue in your wound and can increase (not decrease) your risk of infection,” Dr. Bates said.
- Gauze, clean tissues, paper towel or cloth. You can use these to dry up the wound, apply pressure and clean up any bleeding.
- A good pair of tweezers. Tweezers have many uses, from self-care to pulling pesky splinters. A “good” pair will have a fine tapered point and the jaws should close evenly so you can grab fine objects like splinters and hairs.
- A fine sewing needle. This should have a thin enough point to stab into the side of a splinter and not simply push it around. It should also be long enough that you can get a good grip and have control. Too short, and you may not be able to get it out effectively.
- A good source of light. Having a good source of light is a must. Use a bright reading light, head lamp or other focused light source.
- Disinfectants (for the tools, not your wound). “These really have one purpose: to clean,” Dr. Bates said. “They should be used to disinfect your tools and skin that hasn’t been broken to remove bacteria before any invasive procedure.” If used in a wound and you’ll kill the healthy tissue you need to start the defense and repair process.
Steps to safely remove a splinter
Step 1: Rinse the area
A good rule of thumb is to run the wound under cold running water for 30 seconds. If you’re not near a water source, use about 20 ounces of bottled water to flush out the area. If the wound is dirty or greasy, use a gentle soap to clean the wound. As well, don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and water.
Step 2: Sterilize your tools
Use the disinfectant (iodine, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol) to sanitize your tweezers and/or needle.
Step 3: Remove the splinter
If the splinter is shallow enough, you can use a needle to gently scratch or pick the skin open above the splinter. Then you can either use the needle to back out the splinter or grasp the end with tweezers to pull it out.
Step 4: Rewash the area
Once you’ve removed the glass or wood splinter, clean the wound as well as you can with soap and water.
Step 5: Cover
Cover the wound with gauze or a clean bandage to stop bleeding and prevent contamination of the wound. If you prefer, you can use an antibiotic ointment, but it’s not necessary.
What to do when a splinter is no longer a DIY
“Keep a close eye on the wound for signs of infection,” Dr. Bates said. “If you begin to have increased redness and pain or puslike discharge, seek medical care as soon as possible.”
As well, if you’re not able to remove the pesky splinter, it occurs on a joint or it’s deeply embedded in your skin, you should see your health care provider or go to your local urgent care and have it removed to prevent infection.
“In general, any splinter that penetrates through the full thickness of the skin into the tissue below needs to be seen by a health care provider to determine whether the wound needs to be explored and whether preventive antibiotics need to be prescribed,” Dr. Bates said. “This is particularly true for treated wood products.”
Treated lumber is coated with antifungal chemicals to prevent rot. Without the natural wood fungus, more aggressive bacteria tend to grow in the wood, and they can cause some devastating infections.
Also, patients who have diabetes should be very careful with wounds on the feet. “I would recommend any diabetic patients who have any foot wound that goes through the full thickness of the skin should be evaluated,” advised Dr. Bates.
To find a Banner Health specialist or to find the nearest urgent care, visit bannerhealth.com.
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Sliver or Splinter
Is this your child’s symptom?
- A foreign object stuck in the skin
- Some examples are a wood splinter, fishhook, glass sliver or needle
Symptoms of a Foreign Object in the Skin
- Pain. Most tiny slivers in the top layer of skin do not cause much pain. An example of these tiny slivers is plant stickers. Objects that are deeper or go straight down are usually painful to pressure. Objects in the foot are very painful with standing or walking.
- Foreign Object Sensation. Older children may complain about something being in the skin. (“I feel something in there.”)
Types of Foreign Bodies (Objects)
- Wood (Organic): splinters, cactus spines, thorns, toothpicks. These objects are irritating and become infected if not removed.
- Metallic: BBs, nails, sewing needles, pins, tacks
- Fiberglass slivers
- Fishhooks may have a barbed point that makes removal difficult
- Glass sliver
- Pencil lead (graphite, not lead)
- Plastic sliver
When to Call for Sliver or Splinter
Call Doctor or Seek Care Now
- Object is a BB
- Object is causing severe pain
- You want a doctor to take out the object
- You tried and can’t get the object out
- No past tetanus shots. Note: tetanus is the “T” in DTaP, TdaP, or Td vaccines.
- Wound looks infected (spreading redness)
- Fever occurs
- You think your child has a serious injury
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Deep puncture wound and last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Contact Doctor During Office Hours
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Tiny, pain-free slivers near the surface that don’t need to be removed
- Tiny plant or cactus spines or fiberglass slivers that need to be removed
- Minor sliver, splinter or thorn that needs removal. You think you can do it at home.
Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations
If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, call 911.
Virtual Urgent Care
Care Advice for Minor Slivers and Splinters
- Tiny, Pain-Free Slivers – Treatment:
- Tiny, pain-free slivers near the skin surface can be left in.
- They will slowly work their way out with normal shedding of the skin.
- Sometimes, the body also will reject them by forming a little pimple. This will drain on its own. Or you can open up the pimple. Use a clean needle. The sliver will flow out with the pus.
- Tiny Painful Plant Stickers – Treatment:
- Plant stickers or cactus spines are hard to remove. Fiberglass slivers may also be hard to get out. Reason: They are fragile. Most often, they break when pressure is applied with a tweezers.
- Tape. First, try touching the spot lightly with tape. The stickers should attach to the tape. You can use packaging tape, duct tape or another very sticky tape.
- Wax Hair Remover. If tape doesn’t work, use wax hair remover. Put a thin layer on. Let it air dry for 5 minutes. You can also speed up the process with a hair dryer. Then peel it off with the stickers. Most will be removed. The others will usually work themselves out with normal shedding of the skin.
- Needle and Tweezers for Slivers and Splinters:
- For larger splinters, slivers or thorns, remove with a needle and tweezers.
- Check the tweezers first. Be certain the ends (pickups) meet exactly. If they do not, bend them. Clean the tool with rubbing alcohol before using them.
- Clean the skin around the sliver briefly with rubbing alcohol. Do this before trying to remove it. If you don’t have any, use soap and water. Caution: Don’t soak the spot if the foreign object is wood. Reason: can cause swelling of the splinter.
- Use the needle to uncover the large end of the sliver. Use good lighting. A magnifying glass may help.
- Grasp the end firmly with the tweezers. Pull it out at the same angle that it went in. Get a good grip the first time. This is important for slivers that go straight into the skin. This is also important for those trapped under the fingernail.
- For slivers under a fingernail, sometimes part of the nail must be cut away. Use a fine scissors to expose the end of the sliver.
- Slivers (where you can see all of it) often can be removed at home. Pull on the end. If the end breaks off, open the skin with a sterile needle. Go along the length of the sliver and flick it out.
- Antibiotic Ointment:
- Wash the area with soap and water before and after removal.
- Use an antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin) once after sliver is taken out. No prescription is needed. This will help to decrease the risk of infection.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- You can’t get the object out
- Object is out, but pain gets worse
- Starts to look infected
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Your child becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the ‘Call Your Doctor’ symptoms.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
Last Reviewed: 07/25/2023
Last Revised: 12/30/2022
Copyright 2000-2023. Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.
Soft tissue wounds – health articles
What are soft tissue wounds?
Soft tissue injuries include injuries to the skin, mucous membrane, deep-lying tissues (subcutaneous tissue, muscles, etc.), as well as tendons, vessels and nerves. As a result of violation of the integrity of the skin, microbial contamination of the wound surface occurs, which can lead to the development of infection.
According to the damaging factor, wounds are divided into mechanical, thermal (burn) and chemical; on the instrument of injury – on wounds from blunt, sharp objects, tools and weapons, firearms and weapons; according to the nature of the damage, the wounds are classified into bruised, torn, combined, bitten, stab, cut, stab-cut, chopped, sawn, combined bullet, shot, fragmentation.
According to the depth of damage, superficial wounds are distinguished, located in different layers of the skin, and deep, passing in deeper tissues. Wounds of internal organs and joints that communicate with the external environment through a wound channel are called open wounds, and wounds whose wound channels pass through cavities or terminate in them are called penetrating wounds. Wounds of internal organs that do not communicate with the external environment are classified as closed.
Cut wounds result from the direct impact of a sharp weapon on the surface of the skin.
Chopping wounds are caused by lowering a sharp weapon on the skin at an angle.
Puncture wounds are the result of deep penetration of a sharp thin instrument. Possible injury to the cavities or joints.
Contusion wounds occur when some part of the body comes into contact with a hard obstacle and there is a solid support in the form of the bones of the skull or other bone.
Crushed, crushed wounds are formed due to the impact of a blunt instrument with a wide surface when opposed to a solid support.
Bite wounds. As a result of a bite by an animal or a person, highly virulent causative agents of wound infection can enter the wound.
A closed injury can be suspected by knowing the mechanism of injury (eg, blunt force impact) and by the presence of one or more of the following: bruising, swelling, pain.
Some signs suggest the nature of the injury. For example, swelling and deformity may indicate a closed fracture. A bruise on the head, bloody discharge from the nose, ears and mouth – an injury to the cervical spine or brain is possible. Bruises on the chest, deformation, violation of symmetry – a chest injury is possible with damage to the ribs and sternum. Respiratory failure may indicate lung injury. Large bruises on the abdomen – possible injury to the internal organ.
Signs of a wound vary depending on the type and depth of tissue damage. As a rule, any damage accompanies pain, possibly a violation of the integrity of the skin, as well as bleeding.
For small, superficial wounds that are not accompanied by general symptoms, the diagnosis is made on the basis of the clinical picture. A detailed study is carried out during the primary treatment of the wound. With extensive and deep wounds with a violation of the general condition, additional studies are needed, the list of which is determined taking into account the location of the damage. In case of injuries in the chest area, a chest x-ray is prescribed, in case of damage to the abdomen, an x-ray of the abdominal cavity, ultrasound or laparoscopy, etc. If a violation of the integrity of blood vessels and nerves is suspected, a consultation of a neurosurgeon and a vascular surgeon is required.
First medical aid consists of primary surgical treatment of the wound, during which foreign bodies are removed from the wound, bleeding stops, the wound is washed with antiseptics, and non-viable tissues are excised. The issue of prevention of tetanus and rabies (if the wound is bitten) is also being resolved. Wounds with a pronounced inflammatory process are not sutured, they are drained. An infected wound heals by secondary intention. Dressings and drains are changed daily. General treatment consists of anti-inflammatory therapy, the introduction of hemostatic agents, painkillers.
In case of profuse blood loss, the issue of compensating the volume of circulating blood (CBV) is solved, blood substitutes, blood components are introduced. Subsequently, with severe cicatricial contractures and deformities, a restorative operation can be repeated.
Most superficial wounds do not bleed much. Therefore, help consists in bandaging the wound. Before this procedure, the edges are smeared with an antiseptic, making sure that it does not get into the wound.
The wound is covered with a sterile dressing and bandaged. If the edges of the wound are strongly dispersed, before applying the bandages, they must be brought together (but not until they close) and fixed in this position with 2-3 strips of adhesive tape.
The wound must not be washed with water (risk of infection), nor with alcohol or tincture of iodine. The disinfectant solution, getting into the wound, causes the death of damaged cells, and also causes significant pain. No ointment should be applied to the wound, and cotton should not be placed directly into the wound.
Vitamin therapy should not be forgotten. Vitamin deficiency sharply slows down reparative (restorative) processes.
To accelerate wound healing, proper nutrition of patients is important, especially those who have undergone traumatic shock, severe infection or major surgery. They need a complete diet with an increased amount of protein and vitamins. Physiotherapy exercises are indicated primarily for purulent wounds of the upper extremities. Physiotherapeutic procedures play an important role: UV, UHF, etc.
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