How dangerous is this glass in my hand?
November 15, 2009 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I think there's a piece of glass in my hand. Is this a bad thing?

A few days ago I broke a glass on the kitchen counter. It shattered into millions of tiny little shards. I stupidly swept them into the garbage with my bare hand. I then, more stupidly, brushed my hands together to get rid of any pieces- forgetting that these were bits of glass that could hurt me. Well, one did hurt me- and I wasn't sure if it had entered my hand or not, but now I'm pretty sure one tiny piece did.

It's the palm of my hand, in the skin below my fingers, right between the index and middle finger. It looks like a little pimple, slightly raised and pink. If I push on it a certain way, it hurts. The little cut the glass made has already scabbed over, so if there were no glass in there, I don't think it would hurt anymore. It doesn't hurt unless, like I said, I press on it.

If there is a piece of glass in there, how bad would it be to just let it be there for a while? I really don't have time to go to a doctor for a few weeks- but of course, if it's an emergency, I'll do it. Can I let this go for a while, or am I in imminent danger?
posted by shelayna to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had a sliver of glass in my heel which I could not remove after a breakage. It was uncomfortable for a while but with time I forgot about it. I don't know if it worked its way out or not, but I'm still alive. My advice would be to monitor it - continued pain, heat, redness are things to worry about.
posted by fire&wings at 6:37 AM on November 15, 2009

I have had this happen before and although, like you, it hurt a bit when I touched it, it wasn't too painful so I left it for a few days and eventually I think my body must have just pushed it out because I completely forgot about it and when I remembered a couple of weeks later there was nothing there. I think your body recognises it as a foreign object and tries to eject it!

That said, if it starts to become more painful, or red, or swells at all probably best to get it seen to because there is a risk of infection. Also, I'm not a doctor so if someone with medical experience tells you to get to a doctor now, ignore me!
posted by schmoo at 6:37 AM on November 15, 2009

If it hurts when you push on it in a certain way, chances are, there is a piece of glass stuck in your hand. Even more so if it is slightly raised and pink (infection). You should see a doctor to be safe, but you can also squeeze the area around the pimple to try to get the glass to 'pop' out (much like squeezing a pimple). I did this a lot of times with splinters, and everything usually work, and the infection goes away on its own
posted by moiraine at 6:40 AM on November 15, 2009

From your description this sounds like a superficial injury that did not slice any veins or arteries and which has stopped bleeding.

Things to watch out for going forward are if an infection develops, in which case you need to get to a doctor and have it removed and the wound cleaned, and whether the shard works its way deeper into your hand (doubtful).
posted by dfriedman at 6:41 AM on November 15, 2009

I'd try to remove it like a splinter, especially if it hurts. If when poking around you don't actually see the glass, rinse well and press and probe to see if ya still get the twinge of pain.

If so try again. I wouldn't worry too much about infection etc assuming you know how to clean a wound. i also wouldn't worry if you left it in there, i had an uncle who was pulling shrapnel out of his legs for decades after WWII, with no ill effect, they slowly just work their to the surface.
posted by Max Power at 6:59 AM on November 15, 2009

It may just work itself out.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:32 AM on November 15, 2009

Buddy of mine had a Ragu jar explode in his hand. He mentioned finding bits of glass when shaving his face, years later. No biggie.
posted by notsnot at 7:33 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Had a friend who was in a car wreck, during which her head got rubbed along the ground through the broken window as the car slid to a stop.

Longterm result: months & months later, after her hair regrew, she would occasionally feel something, comb her hair with her fingers, and find a bit of bloody glass or gravel that her body had finally ejected.

No other harmful side effects.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:46 AM on November 15, 2009

It will most likely work itself out. Digging around for it will increase your risk of infection. Keep an eye on it for infection and increased pain. It might cause something that looks like a blood blister and the skin around it may start peeling before it comes out.
posted by The Deej at 7:46 AM on November 15, 2009

I've had this happen several times - I too forget that glass is pointy! I usually run as hot a water as I can stand over the splinter whenever I am near a sink, and it eventually works its way out on its own. I wouldn't recommend squeezing it unless you think you can squeeze underneath the splinter - ie the skin is loose enough to get a good grip below the point where you think it is residing - otherwise you are just going to push it further in and/or increase the swelling which won't help it come out.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:53 AM on November 15, 2009

PS - a little bit of pus is normal and can help propel the glass out of your body. If it gets really red and more painful, or if you see a red line inching up your wrist - go to a doctor immediately!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:55 AM on November 15, 2009

my mom had a chunk of glass in her hand for a couple of years but it hurt every once in a while and she eventually had a physician dig it out.
posted by ghharr at 8:16 AM on November 15, 2009

My friend got in a car accident and had small pieces of glass coming out of his face regularly for over a year. Six years later, he thought he had a zit and it was another piece of glass that had been in his face the entire time. He's fine. If it gets red or hot, then see a doctor.
posted by ishotjr at 8:37 AM on November 15, 2009

A black, tarry topical ointment called Icthamol and sold over-the-counter (in the US), draws infection and may help your skin expel the sliver if it's not too deeply embedded. It works darn near magically: a small dot of it with a bandage cover (to keep it from staining clothes or sheets) usually cleans an infected wound overnight. If the skin has closed over the sliver, it will help to tease the top layer open with sterilized needle first. Be cautious about trying to work the piece out mechanically; you don't want to break one piece into several smaller ones.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 9:21 AM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's no big deal if it's not bothering you. I pulled gravel out of my knee and elbow for years after a major RTA.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:23 AM on November 15, 2009

It probably won't harm you, but if you want it out, try soaking your hand in warm/hot water for about 30 minutes. Might need to do it several times, but it won't hurt and it does encourage slivers to work their way out.
posted by mmf at 9:56 AM on November 15, 2009

Infections in the hand can be very, very bad (not graphic, SFW). Keep an eye on the place where the glass seems to be - if the area is or begins to be warmer than the rest of your hand and/or if it starts to get red and the redness begins spreading (you can mark the area with a Sharpie and track it that way, if need be) then get medical attention much sooner rather than later. If, however, it's just kind of there, with nothing else really going on, then it's probably fine and it will eventually work its way out.
posted by rtha at 9:56 AM on November 15, 2009

Definately soak your hand - my brother went to the ER with several toothpick shards pretty deep in his foot. They thought they got them all out but weren't sure, so they had him go home and soak itin warm water for a few hours (this lat toothpick shard was pretty deep). Then, with a little bit of pimple-style squeezing, it popped right out.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:09 AM on November 15, 2009

You can dig it out with clean tweezers. Follow up with peroxide. If you leave it, it will be kind of like a little pimple and eventually work its way out, maybe in weeks or years. A friend had windshield glass in her face after a car accident and every now and then, 20 years later, she'll have a very deep zit form over the scar and a little grain of glass or dirt will work its way out.
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:25 AM on November 15, 2009

I had a good sized (half a pea?) piece of glass in the skin above my right pinky-knuckle for maybe about 7 years. It just worked itself out eventually, though I had a weird callus kind of thing until it did.
posted by cmoj at 10:54 AM on November 15, 2009

Get a can of compressed air. invert it, spray that cold stuff onto the area with the glass.
It freezes the skin around the area so you don't feel anything. :)

Get a pin and pry open the "pimple" then dig the shard out with tweezers.

That's what we do at my warehouse where we sell glass.

Or let it work its way out of the skin which is simply unacceptable unless you like walking around with stuff in your body you were not born with besides food, alcohol, drugs...
posted by Gravitus at 2:34 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd never heard that compressed air trick before! I'm totally trying that out.

I work with lots of small pieces of glass and like to be barefoot in my studio. (yeah, I know). I always try to get the glass out. If it is embedded, I clean and soak the area thoroughly. I sterilize a needle and poke around the entrance point to determine how deep it is, and if it's turned after entry. If I can widen the entry point and get tweezers in (or squeeze it back out on its entry path so tweezers can get purchase), I will. If it isn't going to come out easily (because it's deep, or it's turned or it's just not coming out) , I put neosporin and a bandaid over the entry point and wait for it to work its way out.

My last incident (glass shard in foot; it broke into 3 pieces once in the foot) gave up its pieces the first day, 3 weeks later, and 6 weeks for the far end. It took that long for the skin on my foot to shuff off to the level of the deepest piece. Your body generally will build a protective callus around it if an infection hasn't taken hold.

The combination of the water (I prefer hot), the neosporin, and the bandaids help prevent infection of the area, and then its a waiting game for it to work its way up the surface.
posted by julen at 3:23 PM on November 15, 2009

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