Sea Urchin Sting
What You Should Know About Sea Urchin Stings
We don't hear too much about sea urchin stings, largely because none of the 200 or so species of sea urchins are known to be particularly aggressive. In fact of all the animals in the sea, the sea urchin is possibly the easiest going. One look at a typical sea urchins spines however and it should come as no surprise that sea urchins stings can and do happen.
A Two-Pronged Attack - It is not the spines however that usually create the most damage, although they can create enough. On most sea urchins the spines are fairly brittle, but still strong enough to puncture the skin. This obviously can cause some pain, but is not a stinging pain. Sea urchin stings come from pedicellaria, small claw-like structures that are located in between the spines and which when triggered release venom which causes immediate and often excruciating pain.
Because of the number of different sea urchin species, the properties of the venom for one species can be different from the next species, so there is no standard treatment. In fact, you may be told by some that immersing the wound in very hot water is effective, while someone else will say it is not. It probably depends on the species and the venom in question.
If sea urchins tend to mind their own business, how do people get sea urchin stings anyway? Sea urchin stings are most apt to happen to scuba divers and waders, who either get stung by handling one, or most likely by stepping on one. The result can be one or more puncture wounds plus the introduction of venom into the wounds due to the action of the pedicellaria.
Treatment Of Puncture Wounds - Spines will usually break off and stay in the wound and can often be removed with tweezers. Because of their brittleness they may have a tendency to break apart. The spines to not have barbs as do porcupine quills, so will come out easily unless they fragment. Small fragmented pieces left in the skin will either eventually be absorbed or will work they way to the surface.
As is the case with any puncture wound, there is always the chance of infection, especially if the spine is not taken out. Complicating matters can be if the puncture occurs near a joint, for example in the toes or the ankle. When this happens the spine will often have to be surgically removed to prevent unnecessary damage to the joint. In any event, the area around the puncture should be cleansed as soon as possible and an antiseptic solution applied.
The first order of business is dealing with the venom. While in all instances a sea urchin sting will be extremely painful at first, the severity of the pain is usually temporary and can be relieved though appropriate treatment. As is the case of bee stings, some individuals will be more sensitive to the sea urchin's venom than others. A sting that might be merely uncomfortable to one person could be life-threatening to the next. The severity of the condition also is dependent upon the number of punctures involved, as the amount of venom to be dealt with will be proportional to the number of punctures.
Hot Water Seems To Work - While not everyone is in agreement, many believe the best first aid is to immerse the wounded area in very hot water, as hot as one can stand it, for up to half an hour. This not only alleviates the pain, but some believe it destroys protein contained in the venom, thereby considerably lessening the effects of the venom.
Pedicellaria may be in the puncture wound itself, but are most apt to be found on the surface of the skin, where they still cause damage. Any pedicellaria that are observed should be scraped away, being careful not to touch them, just as one would scrape away jellyfish tentacles.
When To See A Doctor - Redness and swelling are apt to occur, especially if the wound has become affected. Medical help should be sought if this is the case and should be sought immediately if the person receiving a sea urchin sting appears to have a severe reaction, experiences trouble breathing or appears to be going into shock.
Sea urchins are for the most part nice little creatures, who mind their own business, but can give a nasty sting if stepped on or handled.