SPLINTER OR SLIVER
or sliver (thin fragment) is a foreign body (FB) embedded in the skin. Most
commonly, splinters or slivers are made of wood. Sometimes they may be glass,
metal or plastic. This definition also includes thorns or cactus needles.
- Most slivers are in the superficial skin and do not cause much
pain. Deep or perpendicular slivers are painful to pressure.
lead is actually graphite (harmless), not poisonous lead. Even colored leads
are nontoxic. They will cause a tattoo, however, and should be scrubbed out.
- Organic slivers (e.g. wood or thorns) usually become infected
if they are not removed. Non-organic slivers (e.g. metal or glass) generally
do not become infected.
- If slivers need to be removed in a medical setting, it's better
to do so quickly before they become hidden by swelling or are pushed in more
deeply. Also, the physician can numb the area before removal.
WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR FOR
SPLINTER OR SLIVER
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If:
- You feel weak
or very sick
- FB is deeply embedded (e.g. needle or toothpick in foot)
- FB has a barb (e.g. fish hook)
- FB is a BB
- Dirt or pencil pigment is left in skin after FB removed and
- FB is causing severe pain
- You are reluctant to take out FB or can't get it out
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am
and 4 pm) If:
- You think
you need to be seen
- Diabetic and splinter is in foot
- Deep puncture wound and last tetanus booster was over 5 years
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If:
- You have
other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home If:
- Tiny, pain-free
slivers that don't need removal
- Tiny plant stickers or spicules (small fragments) of fiberglass
- Minor slivers that need removal and you don't think you need
to be seen
HOME CARE ADVICE FOR MINOR
SPLINTERS OR SLIVERS
- Tiny, Pain-Free Slivers:
If superficial slivers are numerous, tiny, and pain-free, they can be left in.
Eventually they will work their way out with normal shedding of the skin or
the body will reject them with a minor skin infection.
Tiny Plant Stickers: Plant stickers (e.g. stinging nettle),
cactus spines, or fiberglass spicules are difficult to remove. Usually they
break when pressure is applied with tweezers.
Wax Hair Remover: Warm up wax in your microwave for 10 seconds,
and apply a layer over the skin containing the stickers. Cover it with the cloth
strip that came with hair remover. Let it air dry for 5 minutes or accelerate
the process with a hair dryer. Then peel it off. It will remove most of them.
The others will usually work themselves out with normal shedding of the skin.
You can also try all-purpose white glue, but it is far less effective.
Tape: Another option is to lightly touch the area with packaging
tape or another very sticky tape.
Needle and Tweezers: Remove larger slivers with a needle and tweezers.
- Check the tweezers beforehand to be certain the ends (pickups)
meet exactly. (If they do not, bend them.) Sterilize the tools with rubbing
alcohol or a flame.
- Wash the skin surrounding the sliver briefly with soap and water
before trying to remove it. Don't soak the area if FB is wood. (Reason: can
cause swelling of the splinter)
- Use the needle to completely expose the large end of the sliver.
Use good lighting. A magnifying glass may help.
- Then grasp the end firmly with the tweezers and pull it out
at the same angle that it went in. Getting a good grip the first time is especially
important with slivers that go in perpendicular to the skin or those trapped
under the fingernail.
- For slivers under a fingernail, sometimes a wedge of the nail
must be cut away with fine scissors to expose the end of the sliver.
- Superficial horizontal slivers (where you can see all of it)
usually can be removed by pulling on the end. If the end breaks off, open the
skin with a sterile needle along the length of the sliver and flick the rest
Antibiotic Ointment: Wash the area with soap and water before
and after removal. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the area once after removal
to reduce the risk of infection.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- You can't get it all out
- FB is removed, but pain becomes worse
- Starts to look infected (e.g. redness, pus, increasing pain)
- You become worse or develop any of the "Call Your Doctor"
This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical
advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full
responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Adult HouseCalls Online. Copyright © 2000-2004
David Thompson, M.D. FACEP
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