Parents often ask me pointed questions when it comes to removing a splinter. I often hear that the child will not stand still or that it takes an entire football team to hold the child down to remove the little sliver of wood.  

Most splinters will eventually work themselves to the surface, but if your child needs a splinter removed, here are a few hints to make the process less painful.

  • Soak the area with the splinter in warm, soapy water for 15-30 minutes 3 times a day for a few days.  This will help the splinter work its way out, or make it easier to remove.
  • Make sure to pick a place with adequate light for splinter removal.
  • Sterilize a needle and tweezers before you begin.  Hold them in a flame or boiling water for a few seconds, then allow them to cool down.  You should also wipe them off with a  sterile alcohol pad.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Numb the  area with the splinter with some ice to further reduce your child’s discomfort.

During the procedure, ask your child to look the other way or have another person such as a sibling there as a distraction. Prod gently at the splinter with the needle to free it up and then pull it out with the tweezers.  A strong magnet can be useful if the splinter is metal.  Once out, the area should be cleaned and a band-aid applied to keep it clean. 

If the splinter is made of wood, a good idea is to go after any pieces that remain by putting household glue on a cotton swab or piece of gauze, and letting the glue dry against the splinter.  When dry, remove the gauze by pulling up on it and the glue and the splinters will come out.

If you can’t get a splinter out, leave it alone especially if it is under a fingernail or toenail and allow it to work its way to the surface.  A sliver that is metal or glass may be more difficult to remove and should be brought to your doctor’s attention.  In addition, if the skin turns red or becomes painful, or if your child is not up-to- date for tetanus immunization, then consult your doctor for further management.

Of course the best way to prevent a splinter from being taken out is to prevent it from happening.  Tell your children to not rub their hands on wooden surfaces like picnic tables and to wear shoes on decks, boardwalks and docks.

Hopefully, these tips will remove any sliver of doubt you might have when it comes to painlessly taking out a splinter.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.uvmhealth.org/firstwithkids

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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