Splinters and Other Foreign Bodies in the Skin
- A foreign body (FB) (eg, splinter, fishhook, sliver of glass) is embedded in the skin.
Symptoms of a Foreign Body in the Skin
- Pain: Most tiny slivers (eg, cactus spine) in the superficial skin do not cause much pain. Deeper or perpendicular FBs are usually painful to pressure. FBs in the foot are very painful with weight bearing.
- FB Sensation: Older children may report the sensation of something being in the skin (“I feel something there”).
Types of Foreign Bodies
- Wood/Organic FBs: Splinters, cactus spines, thorns, toothpicks.
- Metallic FBs: Bullets, BBs, nails, sewing needles, pins, tacks.
- Fiberglass spicules.
- Fishhooks: May have a barbed point that makes removal difficult.
- Pencil lead (graphite).
- Plastic FBs.
When to Call Your Doctor
Call Your Doctor Now (Night or Day) If
- Deeply embedded FB (eg, needle or toothpick in foot)
- FB has a barb (eg, fishhook)
- FB is a BB
- FB is causing severe pain
- You are reluctant to take out FB
- You can’t remove FB
- Site of sliver removal looks infected (redness, red streaks, swollen, pus)
- Fever occurs
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (Between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm) If
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Deep puncture wound and last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
Parent Care at Home If
- Tiny, superficial, pain-free slivers that don’t need removal
- Tiny plant stickers, cactus spines, or fiberglass spicules that need removal
- Minor sliver, splinter, or thorn that needs removal and you think you can remove it
Home Care Advice for Minor 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 by forming a little pimple that will drain on its own.
- Tiny Painful Plant Stickers: Plant stickers (eg, stinging nettle), cactus spines, or fiberglass spicules are difficult to remove because they are fragile. Usually they break when pressure is applied with tweezers.
Needle and Tweezers: For large slivers or thorns, remove with a needle and tweezers.
- Tape: First try to remove the small spines or spicules by touching the area lightly with packaging tape, duct tape, or another very sticky tape. If that doesn’t work, try wax hair remover.
- Wax Hair Remover: If tape doesn’t work, apply a layer of wax hair remover. Let it air-dry for 5 minutes or accelerate the process with a hair dryer. Then peel it off with the spicules. Most will be removed. The others will usually work themselves out with normal shedding of the skin.
Antibiotic Ointment: Wash the area with soap and water before and after removal. To reduce the risk of infection, apply an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin (no prescription needed) once after removal.
- Check the tweezers beforehand to be certain the ends (pickups) meet exactly (if they do not, bend them). Sterilize the tools with rubbing alcohol.
- Cleanse the skin surrounding the sliver briefly with rubbing alcohol before trying to remove it. If you don’t have any, use soap and water but 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 it out.
Call Your Doctor If
- You can’t get it all out.
- Removed but pain becomes worse.
- Starts to look infected.
- Your child becomes worse.
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the “Call Your Doctor” symptoms.
- Last Updated
- My Child Is Sick! Expert Advice for Managing Common Illnesses and Injuries (Copyright © 2011 Barton D. Schmitt, MD, FAAP)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.