Sliver or Splinter

Is this your symptom?

  • A foreign body or object (such as a splinter, cactus spine, fishhook, sliver of glass) is stuck in the skin

Some Basics...

  • Most small objects (foreign bodies) stuck in the surface skin can be removed at home.
  • Larger, deeper, or hidden objects in the skin should be removed by a doctor right away.

Symptoms of a Skin Foreign Body

  • Pain: Most tiny slivers are in the surface skin. They do not cause much pain. These include cactus spines, stinging nettles, and fiberglass fragments. Foreign bodies that stick out or are deep in the skin are most often painful.
  • Foreign body feeling: Often people have the feeling of something being in the skin, even when it cannot be seen. If a person feels like there is something there, he or she is almost always right!

Types of Skin Foreign Bodies

  • Fiberglass fragments
  • Fishhooks (may have a barbed point that makes them hard to get out)
  • Glass
  • Metallic objects (bullets, BBs, nails, sewing needles, pins, tacks)
  • Pencil lead-graphite
  • Plastic
  • Organic objects (splinters, cactus spines, thorns, toothpicks)

Removal

  • Most tiny foreign bodies in the skin surface can be removed at home. These include splinters, cactus spines, fiberglass, and pieces of glass.
  • If something needs to be removed by a doctor, see one right away. Waiting may cause the object to become hidden or pushed in more deeply. The doctor can numb the skin before the object is removed.
  • Organic slivers (wood or thorns) most often become infected if they are not removed. Nonorganic slivers (metal or glass) often do not become infected.

Pencil Punctures

  • There is no danger of lead poisoning. Pencil leads are made of graphite and clay, not lead.
  • Sometimes the graphite dust can leave a tiny black stain in the puncture wound.

When to Call for Sliver or Splinter

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Object has a barb (such as a fish hook)
  • Object is from a BB gun
  • Dirt is left in skin after object removed and scrubbing
  • You do not want to or cannot get the object out
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Diabetic and a splinter is in foot or toe
  • Deep puncture wound and last tetanus shot was over 5 years ago
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Tiny, pain-free slivers that don't need to be removed
  • Tiny plant stickers (cactus spines, stinging nettle) or fiberglass fragments
  • Minor slivers that need to be removed

Care Advice

Removing Slivers - Splinters - Thorns

  1. What You Should Know:
    • You can remove most small foreign bodies from the surface skin at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Tiny, Pain-Free Slivers: If you have many of these, they can be left in. Eventually they will work their way out with normal shedding of the skin. Your body may also reject them by forming a tiny little pimple.
  3. Needle and Tweezers:
    • You can remove slivers, splinters, or thorns with a needle and tweezers.
    • Check the tweezers to be certain the ends meet exactly. If they do not, bend them so that they meet.
    • Clean the tools with rubbing alcohol or a flame before use.
    • Clean the skin around the sliver with rubbing alcohol before trying to remove it. Be careful not to push the splinter in deeper. If you don't have rubbing alcohol, use soap and water. Do not soak the area if the object is wood. This can cause swelling of the splinter.
  4. Step-by-Step Instructions:
    • Step 1: Use the needle to fully expose the end of the sliver. Use good lighting. A magnifying glass may help.
    • Step 2: Grasp the end firmly with the tweezers. Pull it out at the same angle that it went in. Getting a good grip the first time is important. This is especially true with slivers that go in perpendicular to the skin or slivers that are trapped under the fingernail.
  5. More Instructions:
    • It may be hard to expose a sliver if it is under your fingernail. Cut a piece of the nail away to expose the sliver. This should be done with fine scissors. Clean the scissors with rubbing alcohol before and after use.
    • If you can see the whole sliver, remove it by pulling on the end. If the end breaks off, open the skin with a sterile needle along the length of the sliver. Then flick it out.
  6. Antibiotic Ointment: Put an antibiotic ointment on the area. Do this one time after the object is removed. This will reduce the risk of infection.
  7. Tetanus Shot:
    • If your last tetanus shot was more 10 years ago, you need a booster.
    • You should try to get this shot within the next couple days.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Can't get all of foreign body (object) out
    • Removed object but pain becomes worse
    • Starts to look infected (redness, red streak, or tender to touch)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Removing Tiny Plant Stickers (Cactus Spines - Stinging Nettles) or Fiberglass Fragments

  1. Tiny Plant Stickers: Plant stickers (stinging nettle), cactus spines, or fiberglass fragments are hard to remove. They most often break when you put pressure on them with tweezers.
  2. Tape: First try to remove the small spines or fragments with tape. Do this by touching the area lightly with very sticky tape.
  3. Wax Hair Remover (if tape does not work):
    • Warm up the wax in your microwave for 10 seconds. Spread a layer over the fragments. Cover it with the cloth strip that came in the hair remover package. Let it air dry for 5 minutes. You can speed up the drying with a hair dryer. Then peel it off with the fragments. Most fragments will be removed. The others will most often work themselves out with normal shedding of the skin.
    • You can use all-purpose white glue, but it does not work as well as wax.
  4. Tetanus Shot:
    • If your last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago, you need a booster.
    • You should try to get this shot within the next couple days.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Can't get all of foreign body (object) out and it is painful
    • Starts to look infected (redness, red streak, or tender to touch)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Tiny Surface Pain-Free Slivers

  1. Tetanus Shot:
    • If your last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago, you need a booster.
    • You should try to get this shot within the next couple days.
  2. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Starts to look infected (redness, red streak, or tender to touch)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to 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.


Last Reviewed: 7/22/2017 1:11:23 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:18 PM

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First Aid - Removing a Splinter

You can remove splinters, larger slivers, and thorns 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.

Clean the skin surrounding the sliver briefly with rubbing alcohol before trying to remove it. Be careful not to push the splinter in deeper. If you don't have rubbing alcohol, use soap and water, but don't soak the area if FB is wood (Reason: can cause swelling of the splinter).

Remove the splinter:

  • Step 1: Use the needle to completely expose the large end of the sliver. Use good lighting. A magnifying glass may help.
  • Step 2: 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.

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