ZocdocAnswersCan splinters lead to infections?

Question

Can splinters lead to infections?

I have a splinter in my foot that is swollen and discolered.

Answer

Any time you break the barrier of your skin, there is the potential for infection. Although we usually do not think of the skin as a defensive structure, it is actually the most important part of our immune systems. A splinter comes from wood that almost certainly is loaded with bacteria. When those bacteria get introduced into the skin, they can begin to divide to make more bacteria. When the immune system recognizes this, they send white blood cells into the area to fight off the infection. These white blood cells cause the area of infection to become red, swollen and painful. It sounds like that is exactly what is happening in your foot. Sometimes the immune system isolates the area of infection. This causes a pocket of pus we call an abscess. This type of infection we need to drain. This is the type of problem that can usually be handled by your primary care physician. The purpose of this doctor's visit will be to examine the foot, determine if there is an abscess (which would need to be drained) and remove the splinter. You may also need to be treated with a short course of oral antibiotics which your doctor can prescribe. Good luck.

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