Sea urchins lurk on the bottom of the sea (particularly in warm, shallow waters – like you’d find in Indonesia) and their sharp, protruding spines are not just there to ruin your day – they serve as a means of protecting them against predators – which includes your unsuspecting feet.
Chances are if you’re surfing perfect waves in warm water somewhere for a few weeks, you’ll have a run in with one of these spiky devils, so knowing how to carefully remove a spine or two and treat the wound properly yourself will improve your chances healing quickly, and getting back in the water ASAP.
You’re a surfer so dealing with sea urchin wounds should be second nature; if it’s not, it will be after you read the following few tips…
Know Your Urchins
Know thy enemy; If you’re spending a lot of time in the water then it’s worth knowing a bit about the sea urchins that inhabit the area and just how dangerous they potentially are.
Sea urchins release venom through both their spines and pedicellaria and will sting you in defence if you unintentionally step on one. The common black-spiked sea urchin is only mildly poisonous, however others can cause heart palpitations, irregular breathing, nausea and panic, all of which can easily lead to more serious problems when in water.
If you step on an urchin then get out of the water as soon as you can. If a barb is stuck in your foot, try and identify which species of urchin it has come from to help assess the severity of the situation.
Remove The Spine – Fast
Getting the spine out as quickly as possible will reduce your exposure to venom and susceptibility to infection. The best way to do it is with a pair of tweezers; sterilised in boiling water. Carefully grasp the end of the spine and remove it slowly, pulling it straight out so that it doesn’t break off and leave pieces embedded in the skin.
The spines don’t come out easily, and tend to break up as soon as you grab hold of them with your tweezers, so If any pieces remain you have 2 option: slap some antiseptic on it daily, harden up and deal with it when you get home (only recommended if you have a short stint) or seek medical assistance as infection can quickly set in.
Shave Away The Pedicellaria
You also need to remove the pedicellaria (the seizing organs between the spines) and this is best achieved by liberally applying shaving cream over the area and using a razor to shave them off.
Soak In Vinegar
Even once the sea urchin spine is removed, remnants can remain underneath the skin, and bathing the punctured wound in warm vinegar for half an hour will help either dissolve them or lift them to the surface. This also has the added function of working as a natural antiseptic.
Bathe In Hot Water
An additional precautionary step to assist in dissolving any remaining spines, and a good option if vinegar is not readily available, is to submerge the wound in hot water (preferably with Epsom salts). This will help to ease pain and reduce inflammation, as well as kill bacteria and decrease the chance of infection.
Bandage The Wound
Once you think all embedded spine remnants are removed then soak a clean cloth or bandage in warm vinegar and wrap it around the affected area with tape.
Cover it with a plastic bag to help the cloth retain its dampness and keep it on throughout the night. Avoid wrapping it too tight, however, as any remaining spine fragments need space to work their way out from underneath the skin.
Antibiotics Are Your Friend
To prevent any bacterial infections setting in, either take antibiotics or apply an antibiotic ointment on the wound as a precaution. If you are experiencing pain, then take paracetamol as indicated on the packaging.
DO NOT USE Betadine! Betadine is made from a coral base, so it will only feed the urchin remnants in your foot and make it worse! Salt, alcohol or lemon are simple, and work well.
Keep an Eye on It
Monitor signs of infection, such as swelling, redness or pus, and see a doctor if they don’t disappear within a couple of days. If you feel any chest pain or experience breathing problems, then consult a medical professional as soon as possible as the infection or venom affects may be severe.
And that’s all there is to it – you can now call yourself a sea urchin spine removal expert! Of course, prevention is better than the cure; a pair of good reef booties always beats sitting on the beach, digging coral out of your foot while your mates are scoring perfect waves!
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