Symptoms and Signs of Catfish Sting

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 9/24/2021

Doctor's Notes on Catfish Sting

Catfish are a distinctive type of fish with whiskers protruding from the area around the mouth and external spines near their fins. Catfish are usually found in muddy rivers, lakes, and on beaches in tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters. Catfish are not aggressive. Catfish sings usually occur when people are fishing or bathing and they come into contact with a catfish, often by stepping on it or handling the fish after it has been caught. Both saltwater and freshwater catfish stings are dangerous. Each type of catfish has three spines and a stinging apparatus.

  • Symptoms of a Catfish Sting may include severe pain and inflammation at the site of the sting.
  • See a doctor if you have been stung by a catfish.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are usually recommended to relieve pain and decrease redness and inflammation from the catfish sting.

What Is the Treatment for a Catfish Sting?

Catfish stings are usually not life threatening but can be very painful. There is no direct antidote for a catfish sting and treatment is usually aimed at relief of symptoms. 

Treatment of a catfish sting may include:

  • Immersing the stung body part in water as hot as is tolerable to inactivate the proteins and relieve pain from a sting
  • Spines should be removed carefully
  • Any wound should be scrubbed with soap and thoroughly rinsed with fresh water
  • Cover the wound but do not close with dermal glue or stich it together
  • Oral antibiotics are recommended for catfish stings that become infected
    • Seek medical care if the wound is red and you think it may be infected 
    • Antibiotics should be taken if infection develops and continued for at least five days after all signs of infection have resolved
  • Pain associated with a catfish sting may be relieved with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) every four hours and/or one to two ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) every six to eight hours

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.