My wife’s recent trip to Phoenix prompted this post. When I was practicing in Las Vegas and even during my residency training in Los Angeles we routinely took care of kids (and adults) with cactus thorns in various limbs.
I must admit that practicing in the Upper East Side of Manhattan has greatly reduced these visits, but we do still occasionally see patients with prickly thorns in hard to reach places.
So what do you do?
There is surprisingly little on these injuries in kids, and most of the literature dates to the late 80’s. Surprising because all species of cacti seem to be magnets for small people’s hands. They are extremely interesting objects; long spindly shapes, many have fur and some have beautifully colored flowers.
After the irresistible touch, what can you do? There are several recommendations for removal depending on the type of needle.
Large needles can be removed with tweezers. For smaller needles, especially those that are hard to see individually, apply a layer of child safe white glue to the affected area and wait for it to dry. Gently peeling off the glue will usually remove the needles with it. If you have gauze pads at home these can be used with the glue to increase the pull power.
The white glue method has been shown to be more effective and less irrritating than the use of adhesive tape or wax based hair removal products (though both of these can be used effectively as well).
Make sure to clean the area well after removing the spines. And if there is any redness or swelling around the wound or if your child has a fever make sure you call us or your pediatrician or go to your local E.R.
Most important, keep a close eye on your little people when exploring the desert!
Am J Dis Child. 1987 Dec;141(12):1291-2. Removal of cactus spines from the skin. A comparative evaluation of several methods. Martinez TT1, Jerome M, Barry RC, Jaeger R, Xander JG.
This post does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on any web site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.