Corals: learn how to treat a reef rash | Photo: Giannini/Creative Commons

Sometimes, surfers pay the ultimate price for chasing perfect barrels in idyllic scenarios. As a result, they'll end up with fresh reef tattoos. Here's how to treat coral cuts, scrapes, and rashes.

Accidents happen all the time, and even the occasional wipeout can have painful consequences, especially when you're surfing in warm water wearing a pair of boardshorts only.

When you hit a sharp, dry reef, the first thing you'll need to do is to paddle in to treat the abrasions, scrapes, or cuts as quickly as possible.

Coral reefs are animals with many types of marine polyps, and they are covered with viruses, bacteria, and slime that can cause skin infections in humans.

Interestingly, research has found that coral banks located near highly populated areas have a higher concentration of reef-dwelling bacteria.

If you're surfing in tropical destinations, you should take extra precautions. Even a small cut can develop into a serious, infected wound.

For example, some corals have nematocysts stinging cells, which will undoubtedly produce a more significant injury.

Treating Reef Wounds

If you can't get to the medical center, ask someone to help you treat the cuts. Here's what should be done:

  1. Remove the dead skin with scissors or a brush;
  2. Clean the wound with soapy water;
  3. Thoroughly rinse the coral cuts with clean, fresh water;
  4. Scrub the wound with a clean toothbrush to remove small particles of coral that may be on your skin;
  5. If the wounded area stings, rinse it with vinegar or isopropyl alcohol;
  6. Flush the wound with fresh water once again;
  7. Use tweezers to pick out tiny pieces of coral or dirt that may not have been removed previously;
  8. Apply a generous amount of antibiotic ointment or antiseptic liquid;
  9. Cover the treated wound with a non-adherent gauze pad;
  10. Make sure to change your clothes at least every two days;

If it hurts in the first couple of hours, take two ibuprofen every eight hours. If, a week later, you still find pus and redness, go to the doctor or visit the hospital.

The healing time for a coral cut depends on how serious the injury is.

However, you should wait for the wound to seal and heal completely before getting back to the waves.

Remember that seawater is not sterile and that it can make things worse. Wait a couple of days for the coral scrape to heal and rest before paddling out again.

If you're out in the wild, don't take the risk. Make sure you always carry a surfer's first aid kit in the bag.

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