Symptoms and Signs of Coral Cuts

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/6/2021

Doctor's Notes on Coral Cuts

Coral is a hard, stony substance secreted by marine invertebrates. It forms an external skeleton. Colonies form coral reefs in tropical ocean waters. Swimmers and scuba divers often bump up against these hard external skeletons, resulting in cuts in the skin, usually on the arms or legs. The symptoms and signs of a coral cut are inflamed, swollen, red, and tender sores and/or ulcers that may drain pus. Some cuts may develop redness of the skin around the wounded area and expand with time, suggesting cellulitis has occurred. In addition, red streaks moving up an extremity with pus drainage and/or blister formation are signs that the coral cut is infected and that the infection is spreading rapidly. These signs and symptoms require urgent medical evaluation.

Other signs and symptoms are due to secondary infections caused by organisms in seawater that enters the cut.

What Are the Treatments for Coral Cuts?

Coral cuts can be treated by the following sequence:

  • Scrub cuts with soap and fresh water as soon as possible.
  • Flush cuts with a mix of one-half fresh water and one-half hydrogen peroxide and rinse with fresh water for non-stinging cuts.
  • If cuts sting, flush the cuts with vinegar or isopropyl alcohol.
  • Rinse cuts daily and apply a topical bacterial ointment like bacitracin.
  • Oral antibiotics are often recommended.
  • Control pain with acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen.
  • Severe cuts should be treated by a medical caregiver.

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