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What kinds of splinters *must* be removed asap?
August 30, 2006 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Splinters: So is it true that some sorts of splinters will burrow into your skin if you don't get them out, and require surgury and nastiness? If so, which sorts of splinters? Conversely, which types of splinters can you reasonably assume will fall out on their own in a day or two?
posted by sirion to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
 
I think it's a good idea to try to remove all splinters as soon as possible rather than to rely on them removing themselves.

Porcupine quills have a surface texture (microscopic backward-directed hooks) which make them resist removal. Wikipedia sez:

"Quills are sharp-pointed, fitted with microscopic barbs, and expand on contact with warm flesh. Muscle contractions in a quill victim work the quill deeper, as much as 2 cm per day unless the quills are removed promptly."
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:53 PM on August 30, 2006


This is funny, I've benn keeping an eyo on one I picked up Sunday I couldn't get out. I went for it with the needle and tweezers but I just couldn't go deep enough, the pain went beyond my level of endurance.

My experience is they work outwards (maybe they get embedded and just grow out with the skin, I don't know). Keep an eye for persistent signs of infection, which are obvious enough (swelling, redness, pain, I use a lot of triple antibiotic ointment). My brother once had a needle go a fair way into his skin and the tip broke off, and it emerged weeks later a fair distance from the entry site, so YMMV.
posted by nanojath at 7:55 PM on August 30, 2006


I second the working outwards stance. As an example, I had an 'incident' with a whole heap'o'prickle bushes a while back and every now and then for months afterwards i'd notice a prickle splinter near the surface where it was previously fine.

But after saying that, if the splinter is big and nasty I'm sure it would be better to remove as soon as possible to prevent infections.

And after saying that, I'm not a doctor so I only have my own experiences to reflect on.
posted by a. at 8:13 PM on August 30, 2006


Steven C. Den Beste's very nice link mentions that porcupine quills have mild antibiotic properties, and claims this evolved to save the little rodents from drastic consequences when they accidently quill themselves, but I have always seen this described as a diabolical means of preventing the quill from being expelled by pus and inflammation, which allows it to work itself deeper, to the greater woe of any attacker.

I've been waiting to hear whether anyone has investigated cactus spines for similarities to porcupine quills.
posted by jamjam at 9:14 PM on August 30, 2006


I am pretty sure the idea that splinters will get buried in your skin and burrow into your bloodstream and go into your heart and kill you is an old wives tale made up by crazy grandmas looking to damage their children & children's children. :-)

That said, if you can get a splinter out, it will reduce your discomfort and the risk of infection. If it was a particularly big splinter or something that wouldn't easily degrade, like metal or glass, then you might call your dr's office or go check out an urgent care clinic. But I wouldn't worry too much about it. I've had hundreds of splinters at a time, and I'm sure I didn't get them ALL out, and I'm still alive. How did I get hundreds of splinters? I hate picnic tables! Especially shitty unfinished ones.

Also put some neosporin on it.
posted by tastybrains at 9:23 PM on August 30, 2006


When I was in third grade I was carrying a pencil with the point towards my palm and then I fell and it got shoved in. The point broke off -- and 45 years later it's still in there. (It's graphite and is biologically inert.)

There are people walking around with bullets and/or shell fragments inside them that surgeons decided not to remove, for one reason or another.

It's not always the case that these things get removed, or even that they need to be removed. But as a general principle it's better that they not be in there than that they be in there.

No one seems to have mentioned glass wool yet. The "splinters" are much too small to see, but boy do they itch for a couple of weeks until your skin grows out. (And I learned to use gloves.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:26 PM on August 30, 2006


By the way, here's an electron micrograph of a porkypine quill.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:29 PM on August 30, 2006


When I was in third grade I was carrying a pencil with the point towards my palm and then I fell and it got shoved in. The point broke off -- and 45 years later it's still in there. (It's graphite and is biologically inert.)

This happened to me too, I accidentally got a bit of pencil graphite embedded in my leg. I thought it was cool for a while, then I forgot about it. I always wondered if it would cause some kind of problem later, like that making its way into the bloodstream thing that tastybrains mentioned. At least, I assume it was graphite and not lead.
posted by BorgLove at 10:05 PM on August 30, 2006


When I was in third grade I was carrying a pencil with the point towards my palm and then I fell and it got shoved in. The point broke off -- and 45 years later it's still in there. (It's graphite and is biologically inert.)

I think this is pretty common. I was stabbed in the side of the head with a pencil in grade school and still have the tip in there. It looks like a mole now.

Back on topic...

IANAD but my grandmother was a classically trained British midwife and then a nurse at the largest hospital east of Montreal. Her official stance was always to leave the splinter alone and it'd work itself out. Treat the are like any other cut (keep clean, monitor for infection, etc) but otherwise ignore it unless it is causing you great distress.
posted by ChazB at 11:13 PM on August 30, 2006


My brother got a splinter of glass in the bottom of his foot. it worked in deeper and started hurting as it neared a bone. I saw the x-ray. Doctor had to dig it out.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:31 AM on August 31, 2006


I think this is pretty common. I was stabbed in the side of the head with a pencil in grade school and still have the tip in there. It looks like a mole now.

What the fuck? I did the same thing SCDB did with the pencil tip and the palm, and even today I can see a lightish gray spot where it happened. Where is this epidemic of embedded lead coming from? Are we actually all full of shit and it's just a vein? Or is this actually that common?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:48 AM on August 31, 2006


I had a bit of pencil "lead" in the sole of my foot for something like 10 years. It must have hurt initially, but not long-term. I guess it worked its way out (or way farther in) - I happened to look at the spot one day in my 20s and it was gone.
posted by jessicapierce at 6:56 AM on August 31, 2006


Oooh oooh, me too. My friend was "tossing" me a well-sharpened pencil and the point jabbed me in the fleshy pad under my thumb. Four years later I still have a prominent gray dot there to remind me to duck when people throw sharp things at me.

I think the pencil tattoo's are pretty common, esp among schoolchildren.
posted by tastybrains at 7:35 AM on August 31, 2006


Me, too. In kindergarten, some kid stabbed the webbing between my thumb and index finger with a pencil. It has faded over the past twenty odd years from a dark grey to a more silvery color.
posted by Ruki at 7:42 AM on August 31, 2006


I know that sea urchin spines eventually work themselves out, although they have a coating of flesh that makes them prone to infection. (Diadema, the long-spined sea urchin, even leaches purple dye into the wound.) If you immerse your injury in water as hot as you can stand, it makes it hurt less and seems to help the spine work its way out.

By the way, I also have a mark from a pencil lead in my palm from the whole "running while holding the pencil and crashing into something" phenomenon.
posted by nekton at 10:09 AM on August 31, 2006


Some kinds of wood are far more irritating than others, and so you'll be glad you dig out those kinds of splinters. Especially cedar and redwood - they contain some plant esters (I think that's what does it) that are quite irritating to our systems.
Glass splinters should indeed be dug out - glass is surgically sharp and can burrow quite deeply into your body.
posted by dbmcd at 11:07 AM on August 31, 2006


I'm not surprised about all the graphite tattoos. Little kids with sharp implements and all.

Not so sure about dbmcd's comment. I had a forehead full of windshield that worked itself out over a period of years. I would occasionally cut a finger on a recently emerged shard while washing my face. Finally convinced me seatbelts are a good idea.
posted by Carbolic at 11:14 AM on August 31, 2006


What the fuck? I did the same thing SCDB did with the pencil tip and the palm, and even today I can see a lightish gray spot where it happened.

Me too. Seventh grade.
posted by norm at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2006


Never put a pencil face up in your back pocket before going to the bathroom. Just saying.

Back to the splinter thing. My son would not let me near a recent splinter with a tweezer. The pharmacist recommended something called ichthammol ointment or "black salve". I don't know if it dissolved the wood or drew it out, but it was gone in two days.
posted by saffry at 5:01 PM on August 31, 2006


I always wondered if it would cause some kind of problem later, like that making its way into the bloodstream thing that tastybrains mentioned.

I was just at the dermatologist, and she said it really is really really common. Really.
posted by Airhen at 8:37 PM on August 31, 2006


I had a splinter of wood in my flesh for twelve years.

My brother and I were swordfighting with cheap hardware store yardsticks one fine afternoon, and I carelessly drew mine from the mock scabbard I had formed at my hip with my left hand.

A four or five inch prong of meat-parting stab-lumber went through the web of my hand, and it hurt like fuck.

I pulled it out from one side, but only half came out. Then I pulled the other half out from the other side. However, it turned out later that there was a middle piece (the legendary third half) that healed inside the web. Afterwards, I could move it around in there and twiddle it idly with my other hand. It was hard and smooth and rounded and it seemed perfectly happy to live inside my hand forever.

I eventually had it removed because it hurt to hold paperback books there.
posted by Sallyfur at 12:52 AM on September 1, 2006


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