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Scorpion fish sting

Scorpion fish are members of the family Scorpaenidae, which includes lionfish and stonefish. These fish are very good at hiding in their surroundings. The fins of these prickly fish carry poisonous venom. This article describes the effects of a sting from such a fish.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage a sting from one of these fish. If you or someone you are with is stung, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Scorpion fish venom is poisonous.

Where Found

Scorpion fish live in tropical waters, including along warm coasts of the United States. They are also found in aquariums worldwide.

Symptoms

A scorpion fish sting causes intense pain and swelling at the site of the sting. Swelling can spread and affect an entire arm or leg within minutes.

Below are symptoms of a scorpion fish sting in different parts of the body.

Airways and lungs: Difficulty breathing

Heart and blood: Collapse

Skin

  • Bleeding
  • Severe pain at the site of the sting
  • Lighter color of the area around the site of the sting
  • Color of the area changes as the amount of oxygen supplying the area decreases

Stomach and intestines

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

Nervous system

  • Fainting
  • Fever (from infection)
  • Headache
  • Mental confusion
  • Muscle twitching
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. Contact local emergency services.

Wash the area with salt water. Remove any foreign material, such as sand or dirt, from around the wound. Soak the wound in the hottest water the person can stand for 30 to 90 minutes.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Time of the sting
  • Location of the sting

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The wound will be soaked in a cleaning solution and any remaining foreign material will be removed. Symptoms will be treated. Some or all of these procedures may be performed:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing support, including oxygen, tube through the mouth into the throat, and breathing machine
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medicine to reverse the effect of the venom
  • Medicine to treat symptoms

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well the person does often depends on how much poisonous venom entered the body, the location of the sting, and how soon treatment is received. Numbness or tingling may last for several weeks after the sting. Skin breakdown is sometimes severe enough to need surgery.

A puncture to the person's chest or abdomen may lead to death.

References

Auerbach PS. Envenomation by aquatic vertebrates. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 81.

Isbister GK, Caldicott DG. Trauma and evenomations from marine fauna. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, et al., eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 196.

Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 62.

Thornton S, Clark RF. Marine food-borne poisoning, envenomation, and traumatic injuries. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 142.

Update Date 7/13/2015

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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