Splinters and thorns are foreign bodies that penetrate the skin and become embedded in it. They are the most frequent instances and can cause mild pain. Only in some cases do they develop into infections. Other foreign bodies may be retained in the body through many mechanisms such as ingestion, placement of bodily orifices and surgical errors. They may include fishhooks, glass, toothpicks, needles, pencil lead and others. The most common areas to be affected include the hands, though the thighs and feet are sometimes affected as well (such as while sitting on old chairs or wooden benches, or while walking around barefoot).

What are the symptoms associated with a foreign body in the skin?

Common symptoms involving a foreign body in the skin include the following:

  • Inflammation
  • Scarring
  • Pain
  • Irritation (feeling the presence of an object lodged into the skin)
  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Although most injuries seem minor, neglecting a foreign body in the skin can cause further damage. Risk of infection is determined by the length of time since the injury occurred, the type of foreign body, whether the wound was clean or dirty, and the patient's overall health condition.Seeking medical attention is advised in instances where the object cannot come out easily, if the object is lodged within the eye, or if the wound is deep and infected. Medical care can help localize the problem and determine the most appropriate form of treatment to assist in its removal.

What to do

Rinse the affected area with fresh water, pat dry while avoiding rubbing and use a disinfectant.  If the foreign body has not completely penetrated the skin, using shrapnel, plug, or tweezers may be helpful to remove the object and prevent chipping or breaking. Although it may be painful, it is a fast maneuver that is usually well conducted. If the object is under the surface of the skin, sterilizing a needle and carefully lifting or breaking the skin over the object can help pull it out (in this case, tweezers are generally recommended to help grasp the object). Finally, washing the affected area once again, disinfecting it, and applying antibiotic ointment to it can help ensure proper healing. Wearing a band-aid over the affected area is advised for a couple of days to secure the wound and prevent bacteria from entering into it and infecting it.  

What not to do

In the event of a foreign body in the skin, the following instructions are best recommended to be followed:

  • Avoid rubbing the skin
  • Avoid using tools that have not been disinfected thoroughly
  • Avoid trying the remove the object if it is lodged deep within the skin (doing so can cause further damage)
  • Avoid trying to remove the object if it causes severe pain and looks infected
  • Avoid certain medications if you are at risk of any allergic reactions or other complications

Rather than risk contracting an infection on the affected area, contacting a doctor regarding any questions, concerns or persist symptoms should be taken into consideration. By determining possible treatment options, further complications can be prevented.


Disclaimer: The information in this article does not in any way replace the intervention or signs associated with this type of emergency, but rather only provides simple tips as how to keep the situation under control while waiting for a medical rescue team to arrive.