Symptoms and Signs of Fire Coral Cuts

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 10/18/2021

Doctor's Notes on Fire Coral Cuts

Fire corals look like coral, but they are more closely related to jellyfish and other stinging anemones. They are sessile (fixed in one place) creatures that attach to rocks, coral, seaweed, or pilings. Fire corals have a bright yellow-green and brown skeletal covering and are typically encountered off the Florida coast, in the Caribbean reefs, and across the Bermuda platform. Scuba divers often mistake fire coral for seaweed, and accidental contact is common. The stings of the fire coral are used to stun prey and are minimally toxic. 

Symptoms of fire coral cuts include

  • local pain,
  • often described as stinging or burning,
  • within 5 to 30 minutes following contact with fire coral.

Other symptoms of fire coral cuts include

  • a red rash with raised wheals,
  • itching, and
  • lymph gland swelling.

In rare cases, symptoms may include nausea and vomiting

What Is the Treatment for Fire Coral Cuts?

Fire coral injuries are painful but rarely severe or deadly. First aid treatment may be all that is needed in most mild cases. The following steps are suggested for the treatment of fire coral cuts:

  • Rinse immediately with seawater 
    • Avoid freshwater because it may increase pain
  • Douse the area with acetic acid (vinegar) or isopropyl alcohol to inactivate the venom (toxin)
  • Remove any parts of the fire coral with tweezers or with tape to help remove the toxin that causes the symptoms
  • Immobilize the extremity to prevent the venom (toxin) from spreading
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream for mild itching
  • Over the counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) may be used for pain
  • If there is evidence of shortness of breath, facial swelling, or a rapidly spreading rash, call 911to to seek medical care immediately as these may be signs of an acute allergic reaction or anaphylaxis


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