How to Treat Cactus Pricks? A Guide for the Safety of You and Your Pets

Skin injuries due to cactus pricks are fairly common in the USA. Whether you’re taking a stroll in the park or maneuvering your way through a home garden, there are chances that you might lose your footing and end up sprawled among the succulents, with more than a dozen needles pierced in your arms and legs.

Cactus and other succulents are widespread in the Southwestern United States. If you happen to have an unfortunate encounter with a cactus and end up with multiple spines in your skin, it is better to treat them with attention and care rather than yank them out of your skin and carry on with your day.

Do Cactus Pricks Result in Skin Infections?

Absolutely! Cactus spines can cause a severe allergic reaction, inflammation, and bacterial infection in your skin if left unattended.

Many cases of cactus pricks injuries have been reported where the patient ignored the extent of damage that cactus needles can impart. After self-treating the wound and not seeking professional guidance, many people end up with severe swelling and numbness in their limbs.

Are Cactus Pricks Poisonous?

If you’re wondering, “Can cactus spines poison you?” the answer is no. Cactus needles, or spines, are not poisonous. But that doesn’t mean they cannot pose serious injuries upon contact.

Cactus needles are the plant’s natural adaptation for protection against predators. There are different cactus spines of different species. Some spines are easy to remove, but some cause extreme pain and discomfort when you get pricked by them.

  • Hair like radial spines like in Old man cactus
  • Hooked-shaped spines, as in the Thimble cactus and Fishhook cactus
  • Flattened cactus spines like Grama Grass cactus
  • Glochids or glochidia, such as in the Prickly Pear cactus.

Among different types of pain-inflicting cactus spines, glochids are the easiest to dislodge from the cactus and hook onto your skin. The injury can vary from minor wounds to serious ocular surface injuries.  

So depending on the type of injury you have had with a cactus prick, here are some remedies to help relieve cactus needle pain.

General First Aid Steps for Cactus Pricks

Before you begin the slow and tedious process of removing cactus spines from your skin, you must ensure that you are headed towards relieving your pain, not worsening the situation.

  • Carefully examine the area where the cactus have pricked you.
  • Mark the affected area and be careful in touching the wound.
  • Inspect your hands, clothes, shoes, etc., for other attached cactus spines.
  • Be careful not to touch your clothes or gear with cactus spines.

How to Treat Cactus Pricks

As previously discussed, cactus spines can range from large needle-like thorns to difficult-to-see glochids.

Many times, spines fail to dislodge from the plant, which means that you are spared the tedious task of getting tiny cactus needles out of your skin. What you are left with is an open wound.

The best approach for cactus thorn infection treatment is to clean the injury and protect the open wound with some bandages.

How to Get Tiny Cactus Needles Out of the Skin

However, there are a lot of chances that the spines have broken off the cactus and pierced your skin.

In this situation, the first thing you need to do is remove the cactus needles immediately.

You can pull the protruding spines out of your skin with tweezers. Pull the spine perpendicular to your skin surface, not from an angle, to avoid breaking the spine while it is still inside your skin.

Let’s suppose you are stranded in an area with no tweezers nearby. Then use your hands to pull the spines out of your skin carefully. Glochids are difficult to see and remove from the skin, so you must avoid touching your face or someone else unless you have thoroughly rinsed your hands.

If the cactus poke still hurts and you cannot take out the spines, visit a doctor immediately. A professional first-aid practitioner is better adapted to pull the spines out.

How Do You Remove Cactus Needles You Can’t See?

If worst comes to worst, and you’re dealing with the cactus glochids, then there are serious precautions you must consider.

Here are the things that must be on your mind when dealing with glochid pricks.

  • Never touch the glochids with bare hands, and then touch the hands to your face, lips, or mouth.
  • Do not try to suck the glochids off your skin. You’ll end up lodging them in your tongue and throat, resulting in the worst infections.
  • Do not scratch the pricked skin. It will only bury them deeper in your skin or translocate them to different body areas.

To remove these barbed pricks from your skin, the following remedies are helpful.

  • Wear thick gloves, like gardening gloves, and grab a nylon cloth.
  • Gently brush off the glochids on the skin surface.
  • Use backlighting from smartphone flashlights to help you with the treatment.
  • Now grab a pair of tweezers and remove as many visible glochids as possible.
  • Similarly, you can use duct tape or other adhesives to remove the tiny pricks. This method will easily remove more than half of the glochids from your skin.
  • Now wrap the wounded skin site in gauze and soak it with a safe and nontoxic glue, hair removal wax, or rubber cement.
  • Wait for the gauze to dry, and then gently peel it off. This remedy will remove more than 90% of glochids from your skin.

Cactus Thorn Infection Treatment

Now you must take care of your wound so it doesn’t develop a nasty infection.

Rinse your wound thoroughly with soap and water, and try to blast off the remaining cactus spines with high-pressure water from a faucet.

When thoroughly cleaned, cover your wound with a clean bandage and monitor it for signs of swelling, redness, or blisters formation.

If the inflammation is mild, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can calm the redness, and an antibiotic gel will take care of any bacterial infection.

Similarly, you can apply a cold pack or ice to treat cactus pricks, but remember, do not use alcohol swabs as they can further irritate your skin.

If the Cactus Prick Still Hurts …

Then you must seek medical attention immediately. Cactus pokes can result in pus discharge, pain and swelling, extreme redness and irritation, and even fever and nausea.

Do not let any possible infection develop and progress. Glochids can still remain in the skin even after all possible remedies to get the spines out. The remaining glochids in the skin can lead to glochids-induced dermatitis, which requires invasive and aggressive treatment.

The leftover barbs, which are difficult to see and remove, need medical expert care where they are professionally removed with sterilized dissecting tools.

What to Do if Your Pet Comes in Contact With Cactus Spines?

Cactus spines are not always poisonous to your pets. But remember, cactus pricks can be as painful for your furry friends as they can be for you.

Monitor your pets when they are near a cactus houseplant or out in the wild, where they can ingest or be injured by cactus needles.

Here is a list of cacti that are potentially poisonous for your children or pets:

  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • San Pedro cactus
  • Peyote Cactus
  • Barrel Cactus
  • Cholla Cactus.

If a cactus needle pricks your cat or dog, you must immediately carry out the following remedies.

  • Take a coarse comb and remove big and loose needles from your pet’s fur.
  • Try to stop your pet from licking its fur or using its paws to scratch the wounded area.
  • Gently remove the remaining needles from your pet’s skin with forceps or tweezers.
  • Keep an antibiotic gel and gauze nearby in case blood starts spurting out of a wound.
  • Immediately take your pet to a veterinarian so that any deep prick spines lodged in the eyes, tongue, and throat can be safely removed.

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Conclusion

Cactus are attractive plants and draw the attention of every person, whether they are hardcore plant lovers or not.

However, it is better to be aware of their natural defensive structural features when you, your children, or your pets are nearby. Assess your surroundings whenever you’re out where there are cacti nearby, and in any case of emergency, do not hesitate to seek professional medical help.