How to treat a catfish sting

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A catfish sting is likely to occur among those who handle the fish. They are usually found in muddy rivers, lakes and beaches in tropical, subtropical and temperate waters. Remember that catfish are not aggressive.

Those who sustained a catfish sting usually encounter the fish while bathing or fishing. The spines of the catfish contain chemicals and venom which causes irritation and inflammation. The affected area appears reddened and tender along with intense pain.

Symptoms of a catfish sting

  • Severe burning pain and irritation with swelling of the affected area
  • Redness and inflammation of the sting site
  • Slight bleeding of the area
    Catfish sting
    Severe burning pain and irritation with swelling of the affected area
  • Inflammation with the formation of red-colored wheals or an area of the skin is temporarily raised and reddened around the affected area.
  • Sometimes, an individual with a catfish sting becomes unconscious
  • In severe cases of catfish sting, it can cause gangrene and requires the amputation of the affected area.


  • Get the affected person out of the water as soon as possible. Use a rope or a tree branch to pull the individual out of the water.
  • Remove the spines from the sting site before washing.
  • Rinse the affected area using either warm or cold water to reduce the pain caused by a catfish sting.
  • Soak the affected area in hot water as tolerated for 30 minutes to lessen the pain and swelling due to the catfish sting. Scrub the affected area using a clean cloth and wash with plenty of clean water. Avoid placing a bandage on the wound or tying the wound to prevent the development of infection. Keep the wound properly ventilated.
  • Clean the affected area using saline solution to remove dirt and toxins from the affected area.
  • Apply a cold compress on the affected area 3-4 hours after the injury to lessen the inflammation and pain.
  • Take the prescribed over-the-counter pain medication to lessen the pain and tenderness.
  • Use tweezers in removing the spines
  • Wash the wound using sterilized soap and clean water to lessen the risk for infection and apply an antiseptic lotion.


  • When handling the fish, hold it on the palm to avoid stinging the skin directly. Keep your hands on the ventral area of the fish with fingers on either side of the pectoral spines.
  • Seek medical help immediately after the sting and if experiencing pain in the joint and lethargy.
  • Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties that can be applied on the affected area to prevent infection.

More Information

The details posted on this page on a catfish sting is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage a catfish sting with proper wound care measures, enroll in a first aid course with one of our training providers.

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