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Splinter, First Aid
A splinter, or sliver, is a particle of a foreign object, such as a small piece of wood, that has embedded itself in ones skin. Splinters can sometimes come out on their own or be pulled or milked (by gently squeezing on each side of the splinter) out easily, but others can be deeply embedded and difficult to remove. All splinters should be removed as promptly as possible. If a splinter becomes wet, it makes the area prone to infection.
First Aid Guide
Self-care measures to remove a splinter are as follows:
- Wash your hands.
- Clean tweezers and a needle by boiling them or by pouring antiseptic solution (eg, isopropyl alcohol) over them, and let them dry.
- With the tweezers, attempt to pull the splinter out the same direction and angle that it went in the skin.
- If the splinter cannot be removed by the tweezers because the tip is not accessible, use the needle to make a small hole above the splinter and/or use the needle to lift the splinter out.
- Once the splinter is fully out, wash the area and bandage it with a clean, dry dressing.
Note: If the splinter is embedded in the skin under the nail, you can cut a V-shaped notch in the nail to improve access to the area.
Who's At Risk?
Splinters are very common and affect all people. Those who are exposed to unfinished wood or machines that produce slivers of wood or metal are most prone to splinters.
Signs & Symptoms
Splinters appear as an often small sliver of a foreign object, either fully or partially embedded into a person’s skin. Splinters can be small, large, smooth, jagged, deeply embedded, or only partially embedded. If the sliver is large or jagged, there may be bleeding and redness of the affected area. There may be no bleeding if the sliver is small or fairly smooth.
Slivers often occur on the hands and feet, but they can occur anywhere on the skin or eye that comes in contact with a sliver of a foreign object. Note: For splinters in the eye, see the topic Foreign Object in Eye or Skin.
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The physician will ensure that the splinter site is clean and free of debris.
If tetanus immunization is not up to date (ie, it has been more than 10 years since the last immunization), the physician will need to give a tetanus vaccine and booster promptly. (A tetanus immunization is only effective if given within 72 hours of trauma.) If you have had a tetanus vaccination within the last 5 years but the sliver came in contact with dirt or animal feces before it punctured the skin or the sliver is particularly deep or jagged, the physician may give a new tetanus vaccine and booster.
If the splinter site has become infected, the physician may need to treat the infection with antibiotics.
Seek medical care if:
- You are unable to remove the splinter or only part of a splinter was successfully removed by self-care measures and there is still a piece of the sliver in the skin.
- The skin around the splinter is particularly red, painful, swollen, or bloody.
- The site of a splinter appears to be infected (ie, it is increasingly painful or red, swollen, there is discharge, there is associated fever or swollen lymph nodes, or there is red streaking from the affected area toward the heart).
- Tetanus immunization is not up to date.