Stepping on a sea urchin spine can be an incredibly painful occurrence. Urchin spines, depending on the species, can be extremely poisonous and require immediate attention. Watersports enthusiasts, such as surfers, are at great risk of encountering a sea urchin, which usually requires spine removal. Sea urchins are the ocean's pincushions; strange, spiny creatures that inhabit the sea floor. As such, sea urchins pose a danger to the feet of unsuspecting tourists or surfers. Typically, sea urchin spines become embedded in the feet as the creatures often frequent the bottom of the sea, especially in shallow water. Even though sea urchins are not always poisonous, the spines still pose a danger of introducing bacteria and infection to the human body. The spines should be treated with the utmost caution, like any other open wound. Fortunately, the household treatment for sea urchin spines is a simple one, and can be effective if applied properly and immediately.
Identify the Type of Urchin
There are several species of sea urchin in the world. Some are more dangerous and poisonous than others. If at all possible, try to see what kind of urchin the barb has come from. For instance, the diadema setosum is a mildly poisonous urchin, easily recognizable by its sinister looking, long black spikes. The Flower Urchin is an innocuous looking urchin, resembling a large flower, but even touching its flowery-looking spines can result in immediate poisoning. The resulting numbness, heart palpitations, and panic can cause drowning.
Remove the Spine Or Spines
Check to make sure that the spine has not broken off inside your tissue. If a piece remains inside, under the skin, a visit to the doctor will be needed. Leaving any foreign object under the skin, regardless of whether it is poisonous or not, is grounds for infection. Using tweezers, grasp the end of the spine carefully and remove it from the skin. Double check to make sure that all of the spines have been removed, and that all pieces embedded in the skin are gone.
Soak the Area In Vinegar
Because of the properties of sea urchin spines, the spines dissolve in vinegar. Vinegar is also a natural antiseptic. Heat a bowl or container of white vinegar in the microwave until it is hot, but not hot enough to burn the skin. Submerge the affected area in the vinegar and leave it in the vinegar bath until the vinegar is no longer warm. This will help to dissolve any urchin spine remnants that are not visible to the naked eye, and even help lift spine pieces to the surface of the skin.
Soak the Area In Hot Water
After soaking in hot vinegar, soak the area in hot water. The water, like the vinegar, should be hot but not hot enough to burn the skin. Soak in hot water for 20 to 40 minutes, or until the water is no longer hot. The water will help reduce the inflammation and soreness. The hot water will also help kill any remaining bacteria left behind by the vinegar. Keeping inflammation and soreness reduced by any means will help speed the healing process, and will also reduce the chances of infection.
Wrap the Area
Soak a clean towel or washcloth in warm vinegar and apply it to the affected area. Strap the soaked cloth to the skin with athletic tape or another dry towel. Next, enclose the area in a plastic bag and tape the top of the bag closed. This will keep the dampness of the vinegar soaked cloth contained. Typically, this should be applied before bed, and kept on throughout the night.
In treating sea urchin spines at home, the key is to remove the spines immediately. As soon as possible after the spine removal, the next key to a successful treatment is to apply the vinegar and water treatment. The faster these steps can be taken, the less time the open wound will have to fester and form an infection. If an infection does form, a doctor visit is absolutely required. Sea urchins are the lurking porcupines of the ocean. Keeping a vigilant eye out for these spiny animals and avoiding walking at all, or walking barefoot, in areas of open water when the floor is not easily visible will help to avoid stepping on one.