Sea Urchin Stings and Puncture Wounds

Reviewed on 10/11/2021

What Are Sea Urchins?

Picture of a sea urchin.
Picture of a sea urchin.
  • Sea urchins have globe- to flattened-shaped bodies covered with spines.
  • They are non-aggressive marine animals found all over the world.
  • They live in shallow, rocky bottoms, or hide in sandy cervices.
  • Human contact with sea urchins is either accidental or intentional. People accidentally step on them in shallow surf, or intentionally pick up the urchins, unaware that they must handle the spines with care to avoid injury release venom when they attach to an object.

    What Are the Symptoms and Signs of a Sea Urchin Sting?

    • Stings may vary in severity according to the species. (There are approximately 950 species of sea urchins.)
    • A puncture injury from a sea urchin can cause:
      • Swelling
      • Redness around the area of the sting.
      • It leads to severe pain and infection.
    • Multiple deep puncture wounds may cause:
      • Fatigue
      • Weakness
      • Muscle Aches
      • Shock
      • Paralysis
      • Respiratory Failure
      • Death 

    What Home Remedies and Medicine Relieves Pain and Treats a Sea Urchin Sting?

    • Immerse the affected area for 30-90 minutes in water as hot as the injured person can tolerate, (110-130 degrees Fahrenheit). Repeat as necessary to control pain.
    • Use tweezers to remove any large spines in the wound.
    • Remove the pedicellaria by applying shaving cream to the affected area and gently scrap with a razor.
    • Then scrub the wound with soap and water followed by extensive flushing with fresh water.
    • Do not close the wound with tape or glue skin.
    • If signs of infection, such as pus, redness, or heat occur, apply topical antibiotic ointment and call your doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics. If the patient is started on antibiotics, continue to take them until the patient has used the entire course of the medication. Talk to the doctor about antibiotics and sun sensitivity.
    • Relieve pain with the recommended doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) pain relievers every 4 hours and/or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) every 6-8 hours.

    When Should You Call the Doctor for a Sea Urchin Sting?

    • Seek immediate medical care if the patient develops any breathing problems or chest pain.
    • Spines that enter at or near a joint may require surgical removal.
    • If signs of infection (pus, redness, increased skin warmth, worsening pain) occur.


    Are Sea Urchin Stings Dangerous?


    • Sea urchins have two types of venomous organs - spines and pedicellaria.
    • Spines produce puncture wounds.
    • Contact with sea urchin spines and their venom may trigger a serious inflammatory reaction and can lead to. 

    Sea urchin stings and puncture wounds can cause:

    • Tissue necrosis
    • Paralysis
    • Respiratory Failure
    • Death

    Sea urchins stings and deep puncture wounds can be a serious medical situations. If you have a sea urchin sting or puncture wound and have the symptoms listed previously, call 911 or go to your nearest Urgent Care or Emergency Department.

    How Can You Prevent a Sea Urchin Sting?

    •  Look carefully when exiting the ocean, particularly in areas that are rocky, have coral or Ironshore coral.
    • If an exit is covered with urchins, try to pick an alternate exit to avoid injury.
    • Do not handle marine life. Marine animals are sensitive to human touch, and handling or moving them may stress the animal or remove protective covering on the scales or skin.


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    Reviewed on 10/11/2021
    Scott A Gallagher, MD, FACEP, et al. Echinoderm Envenomation. Medscape. Updated: Jul 17, 2017

    Gelman Y, Murphy-Lavoie Yana Gelman, HM. Sea Urchin Toxicity. Updated: Jan 28, 2020.