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Splinters (cont.)

Splinters Symptoms

Usually, a splinter is fairly obvious. The person feels pain, and a sense that a foreign body is embedded in the skin. Often, the individual can see the splinter in or under the skin. The person may have only a small flow of blood or no bleeding at all. They may or may not be able to feel the splinter or a tip of it. Sometimes, the splinter is not noticed at all until an infection develops. Then, the area becomes red, swollen, warm, and tender.

When to Seek Medical Care for a Splinter

Most splinters are easily removed at home without complications. On occasion, the person may need to see a doctor.

  • A splinter under a fingernail may be impossible to remove at home. Unless removed, it often becomes infected.
  • Very deep splinters may require removal by a doctor. Some splinters may be lodged so deeply that only an anesthetic injection allows for a painless removal.
  • Infection is usually noted with discharge (pus), increased pain, redness, swelling, or red streaking. This could be a sign that a foreign body has not been fully removed. All foreign bodies contain large amounts of germs. Even with complete removal and adequate cleansing, infection may still develop because the protective skin barrier was broken.
  • Large splinters that interfere with sensation or movement have the potential for creating deep puncture wounds, which may embed in nerves and tendons (and even blood vessels).
  • With uncooperative patients, such as children, it may be difficult to restrain a child and remove a splinter. If this is the case, seek medical help.
  • An area of inflammation, which was previously the site of a splinter, may be a retained fragment.

For serious bleeding or complications from infection associated with splinters or deep puncture wounds, go to a hospital's emergency department.

Splinters Diagnosis

Most splinters that are visible do not require any diagnostic tests. For deeply embedded splinters, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI  (special types of imaging studies that provide better visualization of soft tissues) may be needed. Very large splinters may also require a CT scan or MRI if there is a possibility the splinter may have penetrated a bone, tendon, or a vital area. X-rays may aid in locating metallic splinters and occasionally glass as well.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/31/2016
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Splinters:

Splinters - Home Remedy

What home remedy have you found most helpful in removing a splinter?

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Foreign Body Removal, Wound »

Soft tissue foreign bodies are frequently a result of penetrating or abrasive trauma and can result in substantial patient discomfort, deformity, complications involving localized and systemic infection, and further trauma during removal.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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