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Close Encounters with Sea Urchins

Close Encounters with Sea Urchins - Krabi Magazine article

One of the great things about vacationing in Krabi and its white sandy beaches and islands, are the variety of water activities that you can enjoy. Swimming, surfing, snorkeling, fishing, scuba diving and just playing in the water are a few of the fun things to try during your holiday here in Krabi. However there might be a down side, these fun activities put you in a new environment and sometimes in the path of some not so fun little critters.

One of these that tourists frequently encounter is the Sea Urchin, which can also be called Sea Hedgehogs. They have a flattened to globe shaped body that is covered by long, sharp and pointy spines. They are found all around the world and are most often seen on the sea floor and among rocks and corals. They move slowly and feed themselves mostly on algae, putting them in a position to be stepped on by unwary tourists.

Their first line of defence is their sharp spines, but closer to their bodies are groups of cells called “pedicellaria” that are able to inject tiny amounts of a mild venom when they touch any type of skin. The result of the venom is usually a painful stinging sensation much like the sting of a bee or a wasp. The pain can range from annoying to severe depending on the sensitivity of the person. The biggest problem is how to deal with being punctured by the spines.

How To Treat Sea Urchins Wounds Yourself

sea-urchins-2Use tweezers to remove the spines that are in the wound, they are dark in color and easily seen but are also very fragile and break off readily, making them hard to handle. If any of the pedicellaria are present in the wound, they can be carefully removed by using shaving cream and gently scraping with a razor. Then, clean the wound with soap and water and flush the wound with lots of fresh water.  Soaking the area in warm water bath as long as you can stand will sometimes help to ease the pain. It is important not to seal the wound with tape or bandages. Any embedded spines that you have not been able to fully remove will work their way out of the skin and lessen the chance for bacterial infections and the effect of the urchin’s venom.  Soaking the wound in a slightly acid solution such as vinegar will help to dissolve the spines quickly.  In fact, many locals swear by the use of warm lime juice or even urine to soak the wound.

TIP: When doing any self-surgery, make sure your tweezers, razors and other tools are sterilized with heat or alcohol.

After soaking the wound, it can be treated with a disinfecting medication such as betadine, hydrogen peroxide or an antibacterial ointment. Overnight, a vinegar soaked cloth can be placed against the wound and wrapped in a bit of plastic. Keep any dressing loose and don’t close off the wound in order to allow any remaining spines to work their way out of the skin.

Tylenol, aspirin or ibuprofen are good choices to help manage the pain taking the recommended dosage every four to eight hours or until the symptoms lessen.

When To Seek Medical Care

  • As with any exposure to a mild venom, most people will experience mild pain and slight symptoms but a few individuals may have a severe reaction. If the person has trouble breathing or any chest pain seek immediate medical help.
  • If spines entered at or near a joint or if they have completely pierced the affected area like a hand, foot, finger or toe, see a doctor.
  • If you are experiencing extreme pain or if the wound is located on a sensitive part.
  • Get medical assistance if there are signs of infection (pus, redness, skin warmth or worsening pain).

Last but not least, remember that prevention is usually superior to finding a cure, so wearing a pair of water shoes when swimming in an area where sea urchins are prevalent can help avoid potential injuries. Also, be aware of the location of hands, knees, legs and other body parts that could possibly come in contact with one of these spiny little critters and make your vacation safer.