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Splinters - Splinter Removal and Prevention

First Aid Basics

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Updated June 27, 2014

Kids commonly get splinters, often because they like to walk around barefoot and because they frequently play in and around places that make them prone to getting splinters, such as wooden playground equipment, backyards, and parks.

Splinters

In addition to wooden splinters, other foreign bodies that children get under their skin include:

  • cactus spines
  • fish hooks
  • glass
  • thorns
  • BB gun pellets
  • gravel
  • pencil graphite

Splinter Removal

Most splinters need to be removed, especially wooden splinters and any other organic foreign bodies under the skin. Even if they aren't causing pain, these types of splinters can cause inflammation, unlike glass and metal, which are inert. Keep in mind that all types of wounds caused by foreign bodies can lead to infections.

Although it often seems like the best way to remove a splinter is to just pull it out the way it went in, that is often easier said than done. Except for the most superficial splinters, simply trying to pull it out may cause small pieces of the splinter to be left behind under the skin. For these larger splinters, it is usually best to see your pediatrician for removal, who may have to cut the skin along the splinter to make sure that it is all removed.

You should also see your pediatrician if:

  • you can't quickly and easily get the splinter out, especially for a younger child, who usually will not tolerate repeated attempts at removing a splinter
  • the splinter is totally under the skin
  • the splinter is causing a lot of bleeding
  • your child continues to have pain even after you remove the splinter
  • an area where your child had a splinter becomes increasingly red, swollen, or drains pus, which are all signs of a secondary bacterial infection

If you do attempt to remove a splinter on your own, be sure to use sterile technique (wash your hands, wash the wound, and use a sterile pair of tweezers or small needle) and make sure your child can tolerate the small amount of pain involved in removing the splinter.

Splinter Prevention

Since splinters are usually painful and can be hard to remove, try to prevent your kids from getting splinters in the first place, such as by having them:

  • having them wear socks and shoes, even when in the house, but especially when walking on a wood deck, wooden playground equipment, or in the grass or garden
  • wear real shoes, instead of Crocs or sandals, since your kids are more likely to keep on shoes that they have to tie. Crocs and sandals come off easily, so these shoes will likely spend more time off than on their feet.
  • regularly inspect wood decks and wooden playground equipment for deterioration and sand and stain areas that might lead to splinters
  • quickly clean up broken glass in and around the house before anyone walks on or near the area
  • wear gloves when carrying wood or working in the garden
  • avoid playing with a BB gun or pellet gun or other nonpowder guns, especially without adult supervision

What You Need To Know

  • See your pediatrician if you can't easily get a splinter out or if your child has a large splinter that seems deep or he is bleeding in that area a lot.

  • Your child may need a tetanus booster after getting a splinter, especially if it has been more than five years since his last tetanus shot.



Sources:

Halaas GW. Management of foreign bodies in the skin. Am Fam Physician - 1-SEP-2007; 76(5): 683-8.

Marx: Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice, 6th ed.

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