Ask: How to spirit away a splinter?

UNC pediatrician Mike Steiner
UNC pediatrician Mike Steiner

Q. My son is always picking up splinters from the playground. What's the best way to take them out (and keep him calm while I'm doing that)?

A. Nothing hurts little fingers like a big splinter! Splinters are an almost universal experience that will definitely come up during parenting.  Splinters in the fingers and feet can almost always be dealt with and treated at home, but occasionally they do need a professional's touch.

First of all, the times to go to a professional: If there is a splinter or foreign object in the eye or penetrating some deep surface (not really a splinter, more like a spear), do NOT remove the object but proceed directly to the emergency department. Removing the item can cause more damage and put the child at risk of dangerous bleeding. Similarly, if while gripping a splinter it feels very deep and you can not pull it out despite traction, it could be involving the bony cortex and again it is probably better to take the child in to the doctor.

But the vast majority of splinters are very small pieces of material lancing in between the skin. Many of these items would work their way out of the skin on their own over time, but usually a splinter causes pain and makes it difficult to walk or use the hand, so people want to get it out.  Usually a clean pin and a pair of tweezers can work together to elevate the edge of the splinter away from the skin and grasp the edge to pull it out. 

While doing this, try to use distraction techniques with the child like watching TV, playing a video game, or just getting someone to help hold him and keep him safe.

After removal, be sure to soak the area in warm water and to wash it well with soap and water. The finger or toe will be slightly red just from inflammation, but if after 2 or 3 days the redness is worsening, see your doctor as there might be an infection brewing.

Last point: Make sure your tetanus shot has been given within the past five years!

If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask Dr. Steiner or any of our experts by sending email to

Dr. Mike Steiner is a pediatrician in the department of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at UNC and North Carolina Children’s Hospital, a group of health-care professionals dedicated to improving the health of children and adolescents through clinical care, research, education and advocacy. The group includes over 25 physicians, practitioners, nurses and other health-care professionals. We supervise the care of children with general medical problems at N.C. Children’s Hospital, including the newborn nursery, primary care clinic and a complex care and diagnostic clinic that also sees patients at the N.C. Children’s Specialty Clinic located on the Rex Healthcare campus in Raleigh.