Facts on Sea Urchin Stings
- 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.
- Sea urchins have two types of venomous organs - spines and pedicellaria.
- Spines produce puncture wounds.
- Pedicellaria are small, delicate seizing organs that lie between the spines and release venom when they attach to an object.
What Are the Symptoms of a Sea Urchin Sting?
What Is the Treatment for Sea Urchin Sting?
- Immerse the affected area for 30-90 minutes in water as hot as the injured person can tolerate. 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 I Call the Doctor about 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 sings of infection (pus, redness, increased skin warmth, worsening pain) occur.
How Can I 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.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care
Views/opinions expressed in this article are not those of the United States Navy.