How to Remove a Splinter, According to a Doctor

white brunette woman inspecting a splinter on a man's leg
white brunette woman inspecting a splinter on a man's leg

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Anyone who has spent time trying to remove a splinter knows how tricky it can be to do it right.

No need to panic, because Dr. Avir Mitra, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and assistant program director at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, shares an easy step-by-step guide on how to remove a splinter in the most pain-free way possible.

How to get a splinter out

According to Mitra, a splinter is a “relatively small object that penetrates the skin and usually stays lodged in or near the [top] skin layer.” The most common splinters Mitra sees are pieces of wood and small shards of glass.

What you need

If you need to remove a splinter, Mitra recommends that you gather the following supplies:

  • Tweezers
  • Bandage
  • Soap to wash your hands

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) also recommends rubbing alcohol to clean the tweezers. And if you struggle to see the splinter, use a magnifying glass.

How to prepare

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water
  2. Use the rubbing alcohol to sterilize the tip of the tweezers

Follow these steps

  1. Examine the splinter and figure out its trajectory (in what direction the splinter entered the skin).
  2. Use tweezers to “gently grasp the protruding end and pull it out along the same path it went in,” Mitra said, adding that you should also be careful “not to pull too hard or squeeze too hard because you don't want to break the splinter and leave the deeper part stuck. With glass, you have to be very delicate, so as not to shatter the glass and make the problem worse.”
  3. After you pull the splinter out, look closely at the skin to make sure nothing else is remaining.
  4. If everything is out, wash the area with a lot of soap and water.
  5. Apply a bandage if there’s any bleeding.

The AAD suggests that you put petroleum jelly on top of the area before you put on the bandage.

If the splinter is stuck under the skin, Mitra recommended that you take a “clean, new sewing needle and gently scrape away the overlying skin to try to expose it. This should be very superficial (near the surface of the body) and not cause any bleeding (just the outer layer of skin). If you are able to expose the splinter, you can then grab and remove it with tweezers.”

If you follow those steps, but still can’t access the splinter, Mitra advises that you go to the ER.

When to see a doctor or go to the ER

If the splinter is barbed — like a fishhook or taser prongs — Mitra says that you should go straight to the ER.

“It’s going to hurt a lot more to pull out, so I’d recommend coming to the ER so we can get it out more painlessly,” he explained.

If the splinter “penetrates beyond the skin and into deeper levels, we would call that a penetrating injury and that would require the ER,” he added.

A splinter, or any foreign body that stays in the skin or goes extra deep, “has the potential to cause an infection," Mitra added. “The more dirty the object, the more likely [there could be an infection]. It's also important to make sure you are up to date on your tetanus vaccine. Retained splinters can cause long-lasting pain, especially if they are metal or glass. Small pieces of glass can cause chronic pain in an area, so it is very important to get all of it out. Wood materials, especially if they are small, sometimes get broken down by the body.”

If you ever find yourself confused or concerned by a splinter, or if you want it removed painlessly, you can always go to the ER. "We are always here 24/7 to help you,” Mitra stressed.

SOURCE: Avir Mitra, MD, assistant professor, emergency medicine, and assistant program director, Icahn School of Medicine, New York City

What This Means For You

Removing a splinter can be tricky business, but an ER doctor shows you how.

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