How to Treat Sea Urchin Injuries
Sea urchins are spiny sea creatures that are round and covered with very sharp needles called "spines;" depending on the species some of these spines can emit toxins. Typically seen in coastal and reef waters, many people become impaled on sea urchin spines while surfing, scuba diving or even walking in shallow waters. Almost all sea urchin venom (secreted from the pedicellaria organs) and their spines are non lethal, but can be extremely painful. A common place to get them is on the foot or the hand - from stepping on an urchin or falling off of a surfboard. The spines can go very deep into your skin and because they are brittle can sometimes be very difficult to remove without breaking off the tip. If you do get impaled by urchin spines, here are some tips of how to treat them until you can get medical attention.
Steps to Treat Sea Urchin Injury
1) Apply a topical antiseptic to clean and disinfect the wound until you can get to a clean comfortable place to apply further treatment - hydrogen peroxide is a good start, and neosporin is good to apply to the area as well. As with other types of wounds, keeping the urchin spine injuries clean is good to do.
2) Soak the injured area in a pot of very warm water (obviously not so hot that you scald yourself...but the hotter, the better) - you should submerge the affected area until the skin is 'pruned' or well soaked (about 20 minutes). If you have some epsom salt handy, it helps to add some to the water. Do this several times a day until the injury is resolved. The hot water helps with the pain, keeps the wound clean, and helps the body push out the embedded spines as it softens the skin (which makes it easier for extraction once it dries out a bit ... see step 5).
3) You can try to remove the spines with pliers or tweezers, though the spines may be too flush with the skin to get good purchase. For simple punctures that look like the spines are protruding and can be easily pulled out, gently remove them. Also, as mentioned earlier, the spines can be very brittle and may be very hard to remove without breaking. Still...it is worth a shot, so if you do so, try to be careful not to crush the ends with the tweezers and break them, and though it is painful to pull them out, it makes the whole recovery period a lot easier!
4) Soaking the affected area in some vinegar helps alleviate the pain from venom. (some people apply urine when vinegar is not available...) - not all sea urchin spines have venom (in fact, only about a dozen or so species of sea urchin emit venom) -if you don't feel the venom 'sting' then obviously don't bother with this step. Vinegar does not dissolve the spines, it only helps to counteract the effects of the venom.
5) If you are experienced with using a needle or a pin to dig out splinters and thorns, this technique works well with urchin spines. Make sure that you use a sterilized needle and if you are causing bleeding, you should stop. I recommend attempting an extraction after you have soaked the affected area in warm water for a while.
6) To keep the wound clean, when you head out and about, you should be sure to first apply some antiseptic like neosporin to the area and then cover it with a ban-aid to keep debris from infecting the wounds.
Keep soaking the urchin affected area in warm water a couple of times a day and keep that wound clean!
Seek Medical Attention
If you have are impaled by many spines and/or if some are very deep and painful you should definitely have a doctor take a look at the injury. They can assist with safe removal of the urchin spines and can prescribe antibiotics to stave off infection. For minor injuries, try the techniques above for a day or two, and make sure to reapply topical antiseptic and cover with a band aid to keep the wound clean.
The body should push out or dissolve any spine fragments in about a month.
jonnycomelately on July 20, 2013:
One way I heard of for getting those spines out of your foot. Be careful with this method, there are a couple of things that can go wrong.
This description is offered without any guarantees. Make your own choices.
Get a glass bottle, with the opening no more than 1 inch (25mm) diameter. Explanation for this later.
Fill with hot water, NOT BOILING, so the glass becomes warm throughout.
The glass must not be so hot that it will cause injury to the patient's skin.
Invert the bottle and place its opening over the spines embedded in the skin. As the air in the bottle cools it contracts and produces a steady suction. This should be enough vacuum to gradually suck out the spines. Repeat as often as needed.
IF THE BOTTLE OPENING IS TOO WIDE you will suck so much of the skin into the bottle it's very difficult to lift it off without breaking the bottle!
chad.h on May 23, 2013:
I stepped on an urchin today when I went swimming in a marina with my friends and I didn't know what to do until I read this.
Raine on September 02, 2012:
On the 15th october on my birthday i stepped on a sea erchin and had 42 spikes in my foot when I taked a look the sole of my foot was black. I was rushed to the E.R and had to be put under (knocked out ) when i awoke they said that they were all gone.....But they were not a few weeks after the surgery i kept getting repetitive pains in the bottom of my foot and was shocked to find 5 more massive spicked lurking in my foot. So endless nights with tweezers and hot pins im ok we popped them all out. It is september 2012 now and i still have the scars of all of my spike marks and i still have never been in the sea since.
Raine Saul-Yarrow (12 years old ) xxx
Alex on May 29, 2012:
About 2 years ago I was at the Caribbean. I was borrowing some snorkel equipment from the hotel. What I didn't realize was that there was sea urchins under the coral. Well luckily, I only got pricked in the foot once.
Anyways, it hasn't been hurting at all. It just bothers me that I have a point in my foot. I started this treatment about 3 days ago. Well, let's see what happens :)
Jim on April 03, 2012:
Just returned from vacation in Jamaica. While there I swam into some jelly fish. That sudden pain caused me to stand up on a sea urchin. I had over 20 spines in my foot. A doctor was able to dig about half out with a needle,but the rest are too deep. Foot was red and swelled. A month later I still have pain in that foot in spite of many soakings in hot water. Apparently this takes time.
wilkie on March 04, 2012:
got smoked by a sea urchin in sri lanka last week. the locals freaked at the sight of it so i had a doc dig em out with a knife. apparently there is worry that the needles get sucked into your bloodstream and can cause medical problems for life. going to see my doctor when back in canada and i advise everyone to seek medical advice after treating immediately as best you can directly after the hit. four years ago i got smoked by an urchin in hawaii and i did have to soak my foot in urine to alleviate the venom. worked way better than vinegar. apparently you need to use male urine though.. says the old hawaiian woman that helped me
marty on February 02, 2012:
Damn it man 7 days and it still hurts bad!
E on January 24, 2012:
I just had surgery to remove spines from my ankle. Sometimes they don't get absorbed. If it's near a joint, get an orthopod on your side and if you can't walk, have them take it out. I was told to wait...and 7 months later I couldn't walk any more than before. Now the waiting starts for healing.
erik p on January 09, 2012:
2 days ago My foot hit one while surfing on reef in kauai. Got most of it but after digging deep with bleeding I couldn't bear pain of going any deeper. Plus, kept breaking off. Now its closing up and there is certainly a piece in there. Will this REALLY get absorbed? Does vinegar really help dissolve? I need the last word on these questions to decide my fate of treatment.
Shannon R on January 05, 2012:
Had an unfortunate incident recently on the Big Island, I had my footies on but still managed to slip and slammed the side of my foot (at the joint of the baby toe) into a sea urchin. It turned black and blue immediately and was extremely painful.
We soaked it in urine and hot white vinegar, felt ok the next day then 6 days later foot swelled up so I went to urgent care. They gave me a tetanus shot and anti biotics but 4 days later is still red and very painful so am going to an orthopod today and he is going to see if it is septic and hopefully take out the few spines that are still there.
shell on November 04, 2011:
I have had a sarcoidal granuloma on my bottom now for the last 20 years, from accidentally falling backwards in the water in Kos,and being stung buy a Sea Urchin. After using apple cider vinegar to treat my daughters verucas with success, i started applying it to everything that bothered me, the unsightly lump on my bottom being one of them!! after a few days of soaking it with a cotton wool ball of Apple Cider Vinegar for a few days, it has now scabbed over and gone flat, how mad is that!!, it has worked!! apple cider vinegar is now my new best friend!!
Cat on September 25, 2011:
I stepped on a sea urchin the other day. It hurt I only have like 8 spines in my foot but it hurts really bad. I was just about to go surfing when I stepped on it to.
mattytat on August 01, 2010:
i got stung by one 46 metres down whike diving in corfu... wasn't the most fun thing ever gpt up to the surface and my hand had swollen i had over 100 spines in my palm and this was last week.
Ryan Floyd on July 23, 2010:
ouch. did you get one surfing?
Ren Chin (author) on July 20, 2010:
outdoorsguy, you got that right! beware of those urchin attacks!
outdoorsguy from Tenn on July 20, 2010:
when I lived in Puerto Rico i was the Victim of a sea urchin attack. I know I know, but I was minding my own business walking along those rocks when those spiny evil terrors attacked my foot. LOL.
got home with lots of pain and soaked my foot in epson salt and hot water and was good as new.
then avoided Sea Urchin hang outs as much as possible after that.
good hub and good advice.
PlayaNorte from San Francisco, CA on July 15, 2010:
in the Caribbean they just pee on their foot if they step on one, the urine neutralizes the sting. If you sit on one that would be more difficult though
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on July 05, 2010:
This is good advice! Sea urchins always terrified me whenever I went snorkeling... I'd paddle around with my stomach sucked in like MAD! But hey... now I know how to deal with them. Not so bad. That is... at least so long as their spines aren't as painful as their meat is yucky!!