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Fish Hook Injuries

Overview

Even if you fish carefully, you may get a fish hook in your skin. A fish hook is a curved, sharp tool 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. It 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 cast a line, when another person casts a line, or if you walk barefoot near fishing gear. The chance of a fish hook injury rises if you aren't familiar with fishing gear.

Most fish hook injuries puncture the skin of the face, scalp, fingers, back, or ears. Remove a fish hook that isn't too deep. It's 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.
  • 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. This increases the chance of a skin infection.
  • Your tetanus shot isn't current.

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

The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.

  • If you are transgender or non-binary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
  • If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
  • If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
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

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, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, or 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Usually found in dirt and soil, tetanus bacteria typically enter the body through a wound. Wounds may include a bite, a cut, a puncture, a burn, a scrape, insect bites, or any injury that may cause broken skin. Tetanus can also happen with other infections, like dental infections. It can happen during a surgery or pregnancy and delivery.

A wound can be so small, you may not notice you have one. Or a skin blister could break and become an open wound. If there is any delay in finding or cleaning a wound, there is an increased risk for skin infection and a chance for tetanus to get in the wound. A tetanus infection can start 3 to 21 days after the bacteria enter the wound. Be especially careful about wounds on your fingers and toes.

Many people may not know when they got their last tetanus shot. So it's a good idea to call your doctor to see if you need one.

Make sure to stay up to date on your tetanus shots. A tetanus shot is recommended:

  • For a dirty wound that has things like dirt, saliva, or feces in it, if you haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 5 years.
  • For a clean wound, if you haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years.

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.

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.

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.

Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.

Self-Care

Caring for a fish hook injury

Here are things you can do at home to care for a fish hook injury.

  • Stop the bleeding.

    Wash your hands, and then put pressure on the wound for 15 minutes.

  • Remove the fish hook if you can.

    You may need to cut the fishing line and apply ice to numb the area. Then see if the barb is in the skin. If removing the fish hook is too painful, get medical care.

    Do not try to remove a fish hook (seek medical care instead) if any of the following are true:

    • The fish hook is in or near an eye.
    • The fish hook is in a joint, in a bone, or deep in a muscle.
    • You are concerned that removing the fish hook may damage nearby blood vessels or nerves.
    • You are afraid to remove the fish hook.
  • Clean the cut or puncture wound after the fish hooks has been removed.

    Wash your hands, and then rinse the wound for 10 to 15 minutes with mild soap and water.

  • Check to see if you need stitches.

    If the wound is large or deep, or it opens with movement, it probably needs stitches.

  • Put on a bandage.

    Cover the area if you need to protect it from getting dirty or irritated.

Caring for a fish hook eye injury

Fishhook injuries to the eye are rare. When they occur, they can cause a serious injury, including blindness. Prompt emergency room or ophthalmology care is needed to remove the fish hook, prevent complications, and minimize damage from the fish hook.

Do the following, and then seek emergency care:

  • Do not try to remove a fish hook from an eye, eyelid, or near an eye.
  • Do not put pressure on the eye.
  • Cover the eye and fish hook with a metal patch, a cup, or even a paper cup.

    Covering the eye prevents the hook from moving.

    Be very careful not to put pressure on the hook or the eye.

  • Cover the uninjured eye, if possible.

    The injured eye will move less if the uninjured eye is covered. This may prevent further damage to the injured eye.

When to call for help during self-care

Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:

  • New numbness and tingling below the site of the injury.
  • New pale, white, blue, or cold skin below the site of the injury.
  • New signs of a skin infection, such as warmth, redness, swelling, pus, or a fever.
  • Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.

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Credits

Current as of: November 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor MD - Emergency Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine

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