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Topic Overview

Even if you fish carefully, you may get a fish hook in your skin. A fish hook is a curved, sharp instrument placed on a lure or line to catch fish. Some fish hooks have a barb near the tip that keeps the fish on the hook. You can also use a barbless fish hook, which may reduce the chance of a fish hook injury.

Fishhook injuries often occur when you remove a slippery, flopping fish from your line. Injury may also occur when you are casting a line, when another person is casting a line, or if you walk barefoot near fishing gear. The chance of a fish hook injury increases if you are not familiar with fishing gear.

Most fish hook injuries puncture the skin of the face, scalp, fingers, back, or ears. Home treatment can help you remove a fish hook that is not too deep. It is important to clean the puncture wound well to help prevent infection.

A fish hook can cause other problems if it enters the eye, muscles, tendons, ligaments, or bones. A fish hook injury is more serious when:

  • A fish hook is in or near an eye, so it's important to know first aid measures.
  • A barb can't be removed using home treatment.
  • Bleeding is severe or can't be stopped.
  • The wound is big enough to need stitches.
  • Blood vessels, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, or bones are injured. Injuries to these areas may cause:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Pale, white, blue, or cold skin.
    • Decreased ability to move the area.
  • Signs of infection develop, such as redness, swelling, or pus. A puncture from a fish hook is often dirty from marine bacteria, which increases the chance of a skin infection.
  • Your tetanus immunization is not current.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have an injury caused by a fish hook?
Yes
Fish hook injury
No
Fish hook injury
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Is the wound bleeding?
Yes
Bleeding wound
No
Bleeding wound
Would you describe the bleeding as severe, moderate, or mild?
Severe
Severe bleeding
Moderate
Moderate bleeding
Mild
Mild bleeding
Is the fish hook stuck in the eyeball?
Don't try to remove the hook, and don't put any pressure on the eye. Try to keep the eye still until help arrives.
Yes
Fish hook in eyeball
No
Fish hook in eyeball
For an arm or leg wound, is the skin below the wound (farther down the limb) blue, pale, or cold to the touch and different from the other arm or leg?
This may mean that a major blood vessel was damaged and that blood is not reaching the rest of the arm or leg.
Yes
Skin is blue, pale, or cold below an arm or leg injury
No
Skin is blue, pale, or cold below an arm or leg injury
For an arm or leg wound, is there any numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling around the wound or below the wound (farther down the arm or leg)?
This may mean that a nerve was damaged.
Yes
Numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling around or below an arm or leg injury
No
Numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling around or below an arm or leg injury
Is the fish hook still stuck in the wound?
The fish hook needs to be removed within the next 8 hours if possible. But depending on where the hook is, it may not be safe for you to remove it on your own.
Yes
Fish hook still in
No
Fish hook still in
Do you think the fish hook may be stuck in a joint, bone, or muscle or deep in the skin?
If it is, don't try to remove it.
Yes
Fish hook in a joint, bone, or muscle, or deep in the skin
No
Fish hook in a joint, bone, or muscle, or deep in the skin
Is the fish hook near the eye, in the eyelid, or in the face or mouth?
If it is, don't try to remove it.
Yes
Fish hook near the eye, in the eyelid, or in the face or mouth
No
Fish hook near the eye, in the eyelid, or in the face or mouth
Do you think you can try to remove the hook?
You may be able to remove a hook that is small, is not in too deep, and has few barbs.
Yes
Will try to remove
No
Will try to remove
Were you able to remove the fish hook?
Yes
Able to remove the fish hook
No
Able to remove the fish hook
Are there any symptoms of infection?
Yes
Symptoms of infection
No
Symptoms of infection
Do you think you may have a fever?
Yes
Possible fever
No
Possible fever
Are there red streaks leading away from the area or pus draining from it?
Yes
Red streaks or pus
No
Red streaks or pus
Do you have diabetes, a weakened immune system, peripheral arterial disease, or any surgical hardware in the area?
"Hardware" includes things like artificial joints, plates or screws, catheters, and medicine pumps.
Yes
Diabetes, immune problems, peripheral arterial disease, or surgical hardware in affected area
No
Diabetes, immune problems, peripheral arterial disease, or surgical hardware in affected area
Is there any swelling or bruising?
Yes
Swelling or bruising
No
Swelling or bruising
Did you have swelling or bruising within 30 minutes of the injury?
Yes
Swelling or bruising within 30 minutes of injury
No
Swelling or bruising within 30 minutes of injury
Has swelling lasted for more than 2 days?
Yes
Swelling for more than 2 days
No
Swelling for more than 2 days
Do you think you may need a tetanus shot?
Yes
May need tetanus shot
No
May need tetanus shot

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
    • You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

Tetanus Shot After Injury

You may need a tetanus shot depending on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.

    • For a deep or dirty wound that has things like dirt, saliva, or feces in it, you may need a shot if:
      • You haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 5 years.
      • You don't know when your last shot was.
      • You have not received 3 doses of the tetanus vaccine series.
    • For a clean wound, you may need a shot if:
      • You have not had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years.
      • You don't know when your last shot was.
      • You have not received 3 doses of the tetanus vaccine series.

Infection Symptoms

Symptoms of infection may include:

  • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or around the area.
  • Red streaks leading from the area.
  • Pus draining from the area.
  • A fever.

Bleeding Severity

With severe bleeding, any of these may be true:

  • Blood is pumping from the wound.
  • The bleeding does not stop or slow down with pressure.
  • Blood is quickly soaking through bandage after bandage.

With moderate bleeding, any of these may be true:

  • The bleeding slows or stops with pressure but starts again if you remove the pressure.
  • The blood may soak through a few bandages, but it is not fast or out of control.

With mild bleeding, any of these may be true:

  • The bleeding stops on its own or with pressure.
  • The bleeding stops or slows to an ooze or trickle after 15 minutes of pressure. It may ooze or trickle for up to 45 minutes.

Health risks

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines and natural health products can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Impaired Immune System, Adult

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
  • Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Not having a spleen.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Put direct, steady pressure on the wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Home Treatment

First aid for fish hook injuries includes the following:

Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a non-prescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a non-prescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 unless your doctor tells you to.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Numbness and tingling develop below the site of the injury.
  • Pale, white, blue, or cold skin develops below the site of the injury.
  • Symptoms of a skin infection develop, such as redness, swelling, or pus.
  • Symptoms become more frequent or severe.

Prevention

The following tips will help you reduce your chance of a fish hook injury:

  • Fish with single hooks rather than multiple hooks.
  • Consider using a barbless hook. It is safer for you and is better for the fish if you plan on releasing it.
  • Wear shoes, a hat, and other protective clothing, such as eyeglasses or goggles, when fishing and when walking in areas where people fish.
  • Look around before casting to make sure no one is behind you.
  • When you fish, carry a commercial fish hook remover, a large Kelly clamp, or sharp, side-cutting pliers.

When you go fishing, be prepared for a fish hook injury. If you are prepared, you may be able to remove a fish hook, which may prevent a serious injury and decrease your risk of infection.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • When did you receive the fish hook injury?
  • Did you attempt to remove the fish hook? If so, what methods did you try?
  • When was your last tetanus shot?
  • Do you have any health risks?

Related Information

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofMay 27, 2016