Hot Water

by birdfish

I've been in it. I've made it ... a couple times way hotter than it should have been due to broken heaters. And it has saved my life, or a lot of pain anyway. This is a brief note about how hot water can save your day. Note: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV or the inter-tubes.

Some things we aquarists might come in contact with can hurt us; however, this does not deter us. Probably, the most common is some sort of toxic venom in the fin rays of fishes. Besides the obvious lionfish, Foxfaces, some tang dorsals, coral catfish, many fish have stinging or poisonous fin rays. Also, some invertebrates have toxin delivery systems for defense, such as urchins, some corals and anemones, hydroids, and many others.

Many of these toxins or poisons, although not all, are protein-based. As you know, heat stroke is a dangerous condition for a human. The reason is that when our heads get above a certain temperature, some protein-based compounds in our brains denature. They go inert. They lose their inherent quality to function as designed, and so what they do for brain function ceases. This is why heat stroke is so dangerous. The proteins denature in our heads due to heat. Some folks seem to have this as a permanent condition.  

Proteins are often fairly heat sensitive, and it doesn't take much to see the effects. In the 1970's a co-worker of mine who had at one time netted marine fish in the tropics told me something interesting. He said when collecting from the boat, they did not enter the water without a pot of scalding hot coffee on the hot plate. I asked if it wasn't hard to drink under water. He said it was in case you got hit by anything, but particularly a lionfish. You just bolted up to the boat and rammed your hand in that pot of hot coffee and held it there no matter how much it burned. The damage of the burn was less than the lionfish damage!

It might be prudent to keep track of fellow divers so one knew if the coffee was still drinkable when you got back up. Later in the 70's I got my brother into the fish business (he moved on and has forgiven me) and of course I shared with him the coffee pot method of treating venom incidents. Then the call came ... "I got hit by a lion." I asked what happened. He said he ran for the coffee pot, put his beginning-to-swell and in-pain hand in it for 10 minutes, and it went away, he went back to catching fish as though nothing had happened.

I was hit by a scorpion (the arachnid) recently and ran straight to the tub, running super hot water over my foot immersing it for ten minutes. While I could still feel the sting spot for a couple of days, it all but killed the pain after about ten excruciating minutes, once I got it hot enough in there. I am aware of many examples. The key is to get it hot enough where the venom is, and that requires tap-dancing around the threshold of pain for most of us mere mortals. Birdfish zen tip: as you are doing it, the pain of the burning hot water takes your mind off of the pain of the poison.

Some say heating the area increases blood flow (correct) and can expedite the venom movement into the bloodstream (true). I think as long as you keep that heat on it for 5-10-15 minutes (pending results) you will denature the proteins before they get anywhere. Unless you have an allergic reaction to the poison. Even then it may well be your quickest best bet. I think many of them are cooked out somewhere by or around the 110-120dF range. Hot as you can stand it, and then a little more. The ones in our brains meltdown at below 110.

I don't know, but fairly doubt this would help you with things like a Stonefish, a Blue-ringed Octopus, or some Cone Snails, etc., call mom and say goodbye. Many things have a couple of kinds of toxins, including neuro-toxins, and not all may be heat sensitive proteins. But for lots of the regular everyday sundry venoms we might indulge in, hot water can work, and is lots cheaper than a run to hospital, probably some steroid shots, if not some antivenin, etc.

If you handle lethal animals, there is no margin of error or mis-judgement allowed. Did I ever tell you about the time I had a Blue-ringed Octopus crawl across my hand? Birdfish is lucky to live to tell you and lucky they are not aggressive! I actually briefly wondered if you felt it when they bit? When a bite is lethal, it really isn't the kind of thing you want to ponder. Let's be careful out there folks.

Even with freshwater fish there are some that can just plain light you up like a Christmas tree, those cute little Corydoras catfish can send you to the moon. I've been hit by just about everything. Hot hot hot water is my final answer and I'm sticking to it. My brother, the one that met the lionfish, he got lit up by electric catfish once real good, it won't help you for that. And he has a piranah bite scar. Did I tell you he got out of the biz?

Anyway, with the convenience of hot water heaters and faucets, it is something I thought we could all stand to be reminded of, or made aware of just in case you hadn't heard, for that emergency when you might get nailed by something. There is a great research project for someone, except for the pain, and maybe finding volunteers, to determine what temps for how long for each type of envemonation. So we can just quick check a chart when we get nailed.

This has been a public service message from

~ birdfish

Information contained within this article is provided soley for possible preventative, emergency situations, educational, and possibly humorous purposes only. Readers of this article are not to regard any information shared here as any type of diagnosis for any emergency situation and recommendations herein do not constitute any professional advice on any subject matter.

Related articles ...

Our Toll-free Phone:

(866) 874-7639

(855) 225-8086

Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Central Time)

Our E-mail

Phone: (866) 874-7639 or (855) 225-8086
Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm Central

©, 2014-2024