Straight, No Chaser: Splinters


Ah, splinters. You know them, you hate them. Honestly, it’s frustrating for me to see you in an emergency room with a splinter in most cases because one of the first things that cross my mind is, “You’re spending a lot of money for such a simple thing.” Now here at Straight, No Chaser, 844-SMA-TALK and we don’t practice medicine. We give you information and advice. That said, we can provide you with tried and true tips on a variety of tried and true methods to deal with splinters, and we can share with you what’s likely to happen when you show up to an emergency room or urgent care facility.


First, let’s diffuse your anxiety about these little slithers of wood, glass or metal. Unlike gunshot wounds that lodge up against vital organs, these little things typically stay just below the upper skin layer. You’ll be ok. Pain and anxiety and likely the worst symptoms you’ll have. Here are some general tips if you’re trying to remove splinters.

  • No matter how you try, thorough wash your hands before you start and the area of injury after you finish. There’s not much worse than adding an infection to that injury.
  • If you have a magnifying glass, use it.
  • Try to extract the splinter in the same direction (angle) it entered.
  • Don’t squeeze the splinter in an effort to get it out. You’re more likely to break it or drive it further into the skin.
  • If you do get it out, apply antibiotic ointment and allow it to heal without a bandage (unless you’re going to get the area dirty relatively soon).

In general, here’s when you when you should be seeking prompt medical attention.

  • The splinter is near or in your eye.
  • The splinter is causing significant bleeding.
  • The splinter is too deep for you to make an effort.
  • The splinter has broken into many fragments.
  • There is associated pus or other drainage.


Here’s a few methods used to try to remove splinters.

  • If you can identify the tip, perhaps the simplest thing to do is to grab the splinter with tweezers. (This is true at any point with all the methods.) Soak the tip of the tweezers in rubbing alcohol prior to using them.
  • If you can identify the tip but can’t get at it, if you have access to a sterile needle or can sterilize a needle (e.g., soak it in rubbing alcohol), you can use the pin to open up the skin at the area where the splinter went it until the tip is exposed. Then proceed with tweezers.
  • Ask your pharmacist if s/he has black drawing salve (i.e., ichthammol ointment). This non-prescription remedy has been known to be successful in coaxing splinters out of hiding. Place it on the area, attach an adhesive bandage and take the bandage off a day later. If redness or pus develops in the meantime, get medical attention.
  • Sticky tape is a variety of the same theme as the black drawing salve, except you can place it on and pull it off immediately. Be sure to pull off the tape in the direction the splinter entered the skin. Packaging tape works especially well for fiberglass splinters.


Here are three other described methods that deserve special commentary.

  • Glue can be applied to the area and allowed to harden. With any luck, when you pull off the hardened glue, the splinter will come out with it.
  • Placing a raw, cut potato slice onto the splinter has been known to draw out splinters after a few minutes. This method is best used when you’re in the mood for French fries.
  • Applying baking soda paste to the skin at the point of entry has also been described as a solution. This method causes the skin to swell, theoretically expelling the splinter.

The particular concern with these last three methods (and all methods) is the risk of infection. Placing foreign objects into an opening in the skin isn’t the best measure and shouldn’t be done without taking appropriate precautions or in the presence of other options. Of course, you always have the option to wear gloves and take other safety measures to prevent obtaining splinters, including not poking your face through a door splintered by your axe a la Jack Nicholson’s The Shining character. Good luck!

Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at, iTunes, AmazonBarnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.

Thanks for liking and following Straight, No Chaser! This public service provides a sample of what (SMA) and 844-SMA-TALK offers. Please share our page with your friends on WordPress, like us on Facebook @ and follow us on Twitter at @asksterlingmd.

Copyright © 2015 · Sterling Initiatives, LLC · Powered by WordPress


Filed under Skin/Dermatology, Trauma

2 responses to “Straight, No Chaser: Splinters

  1. Helpful advice, thanks Jeff. As someone who does a lot of rugged outdoor work and is splinter prone despite wearing work gloves, I can also attest to the virtues of soaking your hand in hot water several times as a way of loosening up a remnant splinter and having it work its way out or at least make itself more available for plucking.
    Brad Klein