Sliver or Splinter
Is this your child's symptom?
- A foreign object stuck in the skin
- Some examples are a wood splinter, fishhook, glass sliver or needle
Symptoms of a Foreign Object in the Skin
- Pain. Most tiny slivers in the top layer of skin do not cause much pain. An example of these tiny slivers is plant stickers. Objects that are deeper or go straight down are usually painful to pressure. Objects in the foot are very painful with standing or walking.
- Foreign Object Sensation. Older children may complain about something being in the skin. ("I feel something in there.")
Types of Foreign Bodies (Objects)
- Wood (Organic): splinters, cactus spines, thorns, toothpicks. These objects are irritating and become infected if not removed.
- Metallic: BBs, nails, sewing needles, pins, tacks
- Fiberglass slivers
- Fishhooks may have a barbed point that makes removal difficult
- Glass sliver
- Pencil lead (graphite, not lead)
- Plastic sliver
When to Call for Sliver or Splinter
Call Doctor or Seek Care Now
- Object is a BB
- Object is causing severe pain
- You want a doctor to take out the object
- You tried and can't get the object out
- No past tetanus shots. Note: tetanus is the "T" in DTaP, TdaP, or Td vaccines.
- Wound looks infected (spreading redness)
- Fever occurs
- You think your child has a serious injury
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Deep puncture wound and last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Contact Doctor During Office Hours
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Tiny, pain-free slivers near the surface that don't need to be removed
- Tiny plant or cactus spines or fiberglass slivers that need to be removed
- Minor sliver, splinter or thorn that needs removal. You think you can do it at home.
Seattle Children's Urgent Care Locations
If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, call 911.
Care Advice for Minor Slivers and Splinters
- Tiny, Pain-Free Slivers - Treatment:
- Tiny, pain-free slivers near the skin surface can be left in.
- They will slowly work their way out with normal shedding of the skin.
- Sometimes, the body also will reject them by forming a little pimple. This will drain on its own. Or you can open up the pimple. Use a clean needle. The sliver will flow out with the pus.
- Tiny Painful Plant Stickers - Treatment:
- Plant stickers or cactus spines are hard to remove. Fiberglass slivers may also be hard to get out. Reason: They are fragile. Most often, they break when pressure is applied with a tweezers.
- Tape. First, try touching the spot lightly with tape. The stickers should attach to the tape. You can use packaging tape, duct tape or another very sticky tape.
- Wax Hair Remover. If tape doesn't work, use wax hair remover. Put a thin layer on. Let it air dry for 5 minutes. You can also speed up the process with a hair dryer. Then peel it off with the stickers. Most will be removed. The others will usually work themselves out with normal shedding of the skin.
- Needle and Tweezers for Slivers and Splinters:
- For larger splinters, slivers or thorns, remove with a needle and tweezers.
- Check the tweezers first. Be certain the ends (pickups) meet exactly. If they do not, bend them. Clean the tool with rubbing alcohol before using them.
- Clean the skin around the sliver briefly with rubbing alcohol. Do this before trying to remove it. If you don't have any, use soap and water. Caution: Don't soak the spot if the foreign object is wood. Reason: can cause swelling of the splinter.
- Use the needle to uncover the large end of the sliver. Use good lighting. A magnifying glass may help.
- Grasp the end firmly with the tweezers. Pull it out at the same angle that it went in. Get a good grip the first time. This is important for slivers that go straight into the skin. This is also important for those trapped under the fingernail.
- For slivers under a fingernail, sometimes part of the nail must be cut away. Use a fine scissors to expose the end of the sliver.
- Slivers (where you can see all of it) often can be removed at home. Pull on the end. If the end breaks off, open the skin with a sterile needle. Go along the length of the sliver and flick it out.
- Antibiotic Ointment:
- Wash the area with soap and water before and after removal.
- Use an antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin) once after sliver is taken out. No prescription is needed. This will help to decrease the risk of infection.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- You can't get the object out
- Object is out, but pain gets worse
- Starts to look infected
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Your child becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
Last Reviewed: 06/06/2023
Last Revised: 12/30/2022
Copyright 2000-2023. Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.