Kids health

How to handle slivers

Try to remove it, or leave it alone? The answer may surprise you.

Photo: Johan Alp/Johner

When it comes to slivers, forcing the issue doesn’t work.

“With my first child, I did the hold-him-down-he’ll-thank-me-after routine, trying to remove it with tweezers,” says mom Vanessa Pilgrim Mercer, from Conception Bay South, Nfld., “until he looked at me with a tear-stained face and asked, ‘Why are you doing this to me, Mommy?’ I stopped and decided to let it come out on its own. Three kids later, I’ve never regretted the wait-it-out routine. No tears.”

While many of us have memories of our parents using sterilized sewing needles and tweezers to remove slivers, Toronto paediatrician Paul Munk says Pilgrim Mercer has it right — most slivers will work their way out on their own or be dissolved by the body without any aggressive efforts on your part. Munk suggests a 15-minute bath to clean the area and soften the skin around the sliver (you don’t need Epsom salts or the oft-touted baking soda; just plain water will do). Afterward, apply antibiotic cream to prevent infection and take a wait-and-see approach.

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A sliver shouldn’t always be ignored, Munk cautions, especially a large one, or if it’s metal (which carries a higher chance of infection than wood) or glass (which can be painful). In these cases, soak the area in water, and then try to remove it with sterilized tweezers. If a sliver like this hasn’t come out, or up to the surface so it’s easily pulled out with tweezers, within four to six hours, it’s worth making a call to a doctor. He may take the sliver out or direct you to the emergency room, which is better equipped with freezing options to make the task go more smoothly. If it’s not addressed within 24 hours, the tissue will heal over and it will be too late to just pull it out. Munk says that in rare instances where a sliver is very large or causing a lot of pain, or if the area is infected, your child may need to have a simple surgery to remove it. But that’s not a common scenario.

“Slivers are a nuisance, but they’re not usually a serious problem, so don’t panic over them,” he says. Always consult your doctor if you detect signs of infection, like redness, swelling, pus or pain.

This article originally appeared in our June 2013 issue with the headline “Sliver Solutions,” p. 35.

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