How to remove splinters

Splinters are small pieces of wood, glass, metal or plastic that have become embedded under the skin. Kids are particularly prone to getting splinters, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors without shoes on. No matter how big or small they are, splinters can be very painful and should be removed as soon as possible to avoid infection.

Get the area clean

Most of the time splinters can be removed at home, but before attempting to get rid of a splinter, it is important to:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly
  • Gently wash the area around the splinter with warm soapy water
  • Pat the area dry with a clean towel
  • Take a good look at the splinter – grab a magnifying glass if you have one handy, this will allow you to closely inspect the splinter so you know exactly what you are dealing with

Once the area is clean you can try to remove the splinter using one or more of these tried and tested methods:

Use tweezers and a needle

Sterilise a sewing needle and a pair of tweezers by dipping the ends in boiling water or wiping them with a cottonball soaked in rubbing alcohol.

If you can feel the splinter poking out of the skin:

  • Grip the splinter firmly with the tweezers.
  • Gently pull  the splinter out at the same angle the splinter went in.
  • Be aware that if you pull too quickly or in the wrong direction the splinter could break, leaving a piece trapped under the skin.

If you cannot feel the end of the splinter poking out of the skin:

  • Use the needle to very gently scrape away the skin so that you can expose the end of the splinter.
  • Once the splinter is exposed, you can use the tweezers to pull the splinter out.
  • If you cannot locate the end of the splinter,  you may need to try an alternative method of removal.

Tip for removing splinters from kids

If this method causes discomfort, or the sight of a needle and tweezers scares your child, try one of the less invasive methods below.

Apply a drawing salve

Ichthammol ointment, also known as black drawing salve, is a very effective, non-invasive way of removing splinters. Available over the counter at most pharmacies, this ointment works by softening the skin around the splinter, allowing the body to expel the splinter naturally. The process usually takes about a day:

  • Put a small amount of salve over the affected area
  • Cover with a Band-Aid or two – try not to get any of this ointment on clothing or bedding as it will stain
  • Remove Band-Aid after 24 hours and check whether the splinter has been drawn out of the skin

Tip for removing splinters from kids

Be mindful that ichthammol ointment has a strong smell, similar to car grease. Although kids won’t like the smell, they may prefer this method to the needle and tweezers.

Try sticky tape

Using sticky tape to remove a splinter will either work very well or not at all. Usually if the splinter is very close to the surface of the skin (and not very long) this method will remove the splinter effectively:

  • Place a piece of sticky tape over the site of the splinter
  • Pull off the sticky tape in the opposite direction to the way the splinter went in

Make a baking soda paste

The baking soda method is best tried as a last resort as it can cause the skin to swell, making other methods of extraction more difficult:

  • Make a paste using water and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda – the paste should be thick and not watery.
  • Apply the paste to the affected area and cover securely with a Band-Aid.
  • Remove the Band-Aid after 24 hours. The splinter may have come out onto the band-aid or it may be sticking out of the skin.
  • If you can see the splinter protruding from the skin, remove with a sterilised pair of tweezers.
  • If the splinter is still embedded in the skin, reapply more baking soda paste and a clean Band-Aid for a further 24 hours.

When is a doctor’s help required?

It is advisable to seek the advice of a doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • The splinter is very deep and you cannot get it out after several attempts.
  • There is a lot of blood or pus at the site of the splinter.
  • The area around the splinter is very red, swollen or warm to touch.

It is important to never try and squeeze a splinter out or put pressure on the area surrounding the splinter, as this can make the splinter break or may even cause it to move deeper into the skin.

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