Sea Cucumber Irritation

Sea Cucumber Irritation Facts

  • Sea cucumbers are echinoderm (class Holothuriodea) that have an elongated body shaped like a cucumber with tentacles that encircle their mouths.
  • Sea cucumbers live in temperate, subtropical, and tropical waters.
  • They are not aggressive creatures, so human contact with them is often intentional of the part of the human.
  • Sea cucumbers are harvested as food in the South Pacific.
  • Contact with a sea cucumber's excrement or eating an inadequately cooked sea cucumber can cause a rash.
  • The irritating toxin is located in the outer covering and other appendages and can be secreted into the surrounding water.

Sea Cucumber Irritation Signs and Symptoms

  • Contact with a sea cucumber may produce a skin rash. This is usually minimal due to dilution of the toxin with surrounding sea water.
  • On shore handlers can be exposed to the toxin without dilution and therefore the rash and reaction can be much more pronounced.
  • Severe eye irritation, due to irritation of the cornea and conjunctiva of the eyes can result in severe inflammation which can result in blindness in severe or untreated cases. This is partially a risk for diver who clears a mask in the area where a sea cucumber was recently manipulated.
  • Ingestion of undercooked sea cucumber has been known to cause death.

Sea Cucumber Irritation Treatment

  • Rinse the affected area with seawater. Avoid fresh water because it can increase pain.
  • Immerse the affected area in water as hot as the person can tolerate (temperature not to exceed 140 F or 60 C) for 30 to 90 minutes. Repeat as necessary to control pain.
  • Avoid rubbing the area and do not apply ice to it.
  • Apply acetic acid (vinegar, which is 3% to 5% acetic acid in water)) or isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) to the area until pain is relieved.
  • If eyes are exposed, rinse with 1 to 2 gallons of fresh water or saline solution immediately.
  • There is no antidote for this toxin.

When to Seek Medical Treatment for Sea Cucumber Irritation

  • Seek medical care for evaluation of any eye involvement immediately. Do not delay rinsing or irrigating the eye while seeking medical evaluation.
  • Consult a doctor about treatment with available medications.

Sea Cucumber Pictures

Sea cucumbers. Courtesy of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Sea cucumbers. Courtesy of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Sea cucumbers. Courtesy of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Click to view larger image.


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Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine


Auerbach, P. Wilderness Medicine. Chapter 81. 6th ed. United States: Mosby, 2011.