Splinters are any foreign body that become partially or completely embedded in the skin. Any time a foreign body comes into contact with broken skin, a risk of infection is possible. Most splinters can easily be removed at home without pain or complications, but splinters that are deep, extremely jagged or are located under the fingernail should be removed by a medical professional when possible. Splinters left in the skin are likely to become infected. Rarely, infections caused by splinters can spread beyond the skin to deeper tissues, bones or the blood.
Introduction of Bacteria
As the splinter pierces and enters the skin, it carries with it a range of bacteria that can potentially lead to infection. All foreign bodies contain germs that do not normally pose a threat to the skin. However, once the protective layer of the skin has been broken, and bacteria are introduced to the warm, wet environment of a wound, infection becomes probable.
If the splinter is not removed in time, and the broken skin surround the splinter begins to heal over, bacteria will begin to grow inside the wound. Moreover, the splinter will be considerably more difficult to remove once the skin has healed over, which may require additional cuts to the top layer of the skin.
Allergy and Inflammation
In some instances, sensitive people will have an allergic reaction to a splinter. This allergic response can result in increased inflammation, which can increase the likelihood of an infection occurring. As the skin becomes inflamed, it traps splinter fragments and germs inside the wound. The inflamed skin encompasses the splinter, making removal more difficult, and promoting the multiplication of bacteria.
Unsafe or Incomplete Removal
The use of non-sterile tweezers when attempting to remove a splinter can introduce additional bacteria to the wound. Failure to remove the entire splinter can also result in infection, as a fragment of the foreign body will remain trapped beneath the surface of the skin. Safe splinter removal requires the sterilization of any tools being used, cleaning of the affected area and proper bandaging. If this level of care cannot be provided at home, the splinter should be removed by a medical professional to reduce the risk of infection.