Splinters in the skin can cause infection if they’re not removed. Although most splinters can be removed without any particular problems, some types of splinters are serious and should be removed by a medical professional to avoid causing further damage.

When to see the doctor

The types of splinters that need professional attention include those that:

  • are large;
  • are embedded deeply in the skin;
  • have jagged edges or barbs, like fishhooks or metal;
  • are heavily contaminated with soil or other organic material;
  • are close to or in the eye; and
  • are embedded over a joint.

If the splinter is contaminated with soil, check with your doctor whether you need a tetanus booster.

First aid for splinters

If your splinter does not fit any of the descriptions above, it should be safe to try to remove it yourself using the following method.

  • Wash your hands and the skin around the splinter with warm, soapy water.
  • Using sterile tweezers, grip the splinter as close to the skin surface as you can.
  • Pull the splinter out directly. Don’t pull too hard or fast or the splinter may break.
  • Wash the area a second time with warm, soapy water and pat it dry.
  • Apply a dressing if the area is likely to get dirty, otherwise leave it exposed to the air as it will heal faster.

If you notice pain or swelling afterwards, you should see your doctor. You may need a tetanus injection or antibiotics if the wound is infected.

Last Reviewed: 27/11/2013

myDr. Adapted from original material sourced from MediMedia.



References

1. MayoClinic.com. Foreign object in the skin: First aid (updated 10 Dec 2011).http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid/FA00055 (accessed Oct 2013).
2. US National Library of Medicine; National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus. Splinter removal (updated 22 Mar 2013). http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002137.htm (accessed Oct 2013).