MadSci Network: General Biology

Re: Will a splinter of wood in your finger come out on its own?

Date: Sat Jan 31 10:39:49 2004
Posted By: Gerald Bock. MD, M.D., Family Practice, Aviation Medicine, Aviation Medical Specialists
Area of science: General Biology
ID: 1074710374.Gb


First of all, I think it is really neat that your father was a carpenter. 
That is a noble profession. What is even more cool is that you were able 
to be around him enough to the extent of getting splinters. 

That said, allow me to apologize for not returning an answer sooner. I 
was, out of pocket, per the colloquial expression. It was out of country 
and 'hush hush' so to speak. It drives the Admin here nuts sometimes.

As a rule, the immune system does not like foreign bodies in our bodies. 
Particularly when they came in unepected and are associated with 
nonsterile trauma. Case in point would be the splinter/thorn that one 
gets while traipsing aoubt or working on a project. The best example is 
the nasty rusty steel that may get trapped within the skin from a nail or 
other sharp piece. Inflamation occurs in a most dramatic and rapid 
fashion when you have one of these encounters. Pain, heat, redness, and 
swelling quickly follow. There are latin works - 'rubor', etc but I 
cannot remember them. This would be the first stage of attack. 

A person who receives a particularly nasty or diry/soiled piece of 
material should go to their doctor as soon as feasible, even if the 
material is removed. I stepped on a 'used' round pike like toothpick last 
year - it went about 1 1/2 inches into my sole. Pulling it out was about 
as much fun as it going in. I knew I was in trouble suspecting a deep 
tissue penetration which would involve the skin, fat, fscia and muscle. 
These are bad as you can get a deep space abscess quickly. BTW, this is 
the environment that tetanus loves as do other anaerobic organisms (I 
mentioned that the toothpick had been used - our mouths are filled with 
these kinds of organisms. Puncture wounds are problemsome as they are 
difficult to clean and flush out. The offending agent will leave material 
behind. I say this so that the individual may receive a booster Tetanus 
shot and perhaps Tetanus Immunoglobulin if they have an unknown 
immunization record. In my case- saw my pal the next day (an advantage 
that physicians have - we are all family and take care of each other) got 
on the antibiotics and started hot soaks. It resolved within 36 hours.

Theoretically and practically for the most part the body will eventually 
push out the superficial interloper. I had this experience as a child. 
While climbing around a creek bank - hands and knees of course - I picked 
up a very long thorn in my left knee. I thought it was a foot long of 
course. It went straight in - these are harder to extract. My mother, an 
RN, was able to get a very small piece out, After the visit for shots 
(yuk!) we set about a month long process of removing this thorn. I would 
do hot soaks each day, this enable the immune system to gather more white 
cells and other helper cells in the area to begin the rejection process. 
Every Saturday she would get the tweezers and grab the now visible stump 
of the thorn and pull out another small piece. It had apparently worked 
its way into a spot where it then fragmented due to the leg bending. I 
distinctly remember this was a month of dreading Saturdays!

You mentioned different materials. Again we are assuming a nonsterile 
unplanned penetration into the skin.  The body will push everything out 
eventually or it will die a natural death before it achieves this. My 
next door neighbor and first unrequited love was in a horrible car 
accident where she was filled with glss fragments, primarily in the upper 
body and face. This happened roughly 30 years ago, Patty will still feel 
a little sting and sooner or later out pops a tiny piece of glass. I use 
glass as it tends to be less reactive. She had medium and shollow depth 
penetration and I would imagine most of the glass is gone now. When I 
worked in a fiberglass plant making different things (summer job/college) 
I would get exposed to glasss dust, fragments and pigments. For about a 
year afterwards I would experience minor itching and then a piece would 
come out. Also coughed up and out pigments, etc.

I mad the distinction between nonsterile/unplanned events as we know - 
there are people running around with all sorts of hardware inside. A 
planned sterile porcedure installing material that is nearly rejection 
proof and using agents that spool down the immune response will allow 
these to remain in place. 

Back to different splinters and foreign bodies. Organic things, or highly 
reactive material - ie iron that oxidizes, things that are rusty or dirty 
are going to cause a more abrupt dramatic response. Graphite, as in 
pencil lead. It seems to be more inert. Heat to the area - as in warm 
soaks and a clean, boiled clean ,sewing needle can be used to gently 
unroof the tract to help the body force it out or a pair of tweezers. 

In conclusion, you are correct. Our bodies to not want foreign material 
in them. They will attempt to expel this. Obviously, in some cases, help 
is needed. And there are cases, with deep penetrance of a missle, such as 
certain bullets, where the thing remains indefinitely. Even in these 
cases, surgeries can be performed to remove them if they begin to 
migrate - pushed as it were by the body. They get removed if they are 
migrating in the general direction of an organ or nerve/vessel that they 
may damage.

Late and longwinded. I hope that I helped and entertained at the same 


Gerry Bock

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