View Full Version : Coral Poisoning - My Story

07/22/2013, 08:12 AM
I want to preface this by giving a little history. I am 47, with a 51 year old husband and two kids. We are self employed with a shop attached to our home. Our son and one other works for us.

I have a Master's degree in finance and 14 years ago, I was told I have MS (multiple sclerosis) so I also work out of the home, doing all the office end of the business.

I have been in fish all my life. I can remember my first fresh water tank when I lived at home with mom and dad. I currently have a 5000 gallon fully enclosed koi pond, a 500 gallon fully enclosed turtle pond and a 200 gallon reef tank

and this is my story..

My 200 gallon reef tank has been up and running for about 4 years, (before that it was a 55 gallon reef tank for about 4 years so about 8 years in the reef tank field) It has protein skimmer, wave maker, sump, refugium, phosphate reactor, and it has seen me go form T5's to Metal Halides to LEDS and I am no back to my T5's. (I have metal halidews and LEDS packed away in the attic LOL).

There is one corner of my tank that for whatever reason is a dead spot. I have 4 power heads in my tank all on the wave maker, but this corner..is my hell corner. And I always struggle with algae in this corner. It ALWAYS starts there and if I don't stay on it, would over take the tank.

So Friday I decided to do a little cleaning and aqua-scaping of my tank.

I started by pulling the first rock out of my hell corner. Had on my gloves and a bucket of salt water for cleaning, as well as my trusty old toothbrush.

I say down and commenced to clean.

When our son came in and said

"mom why not use the air hose to clean them off, it will blow that algae right off the rocks."

and I said..hey not a bad idea...

SO out to the shop we went...

I got an empty garbage pail, and a small stool. I set the stool inside the garbage pail, and my first rock upon the stool. Hubby made me wear a face shield, (not a mask) and I began to clean.

AND OMG it WIPED the algae GONE POOF..within seconds. Easiest way I have EVER cleaned rocks. I was SO AMAZED. The first couple of problem rocks where base rocks and had no coral on them (that I could see) just algae and some coraline. I quickly cleaned them off and went onto the other two rocks.

I treaded and blew them carefully, getting the algae off around the zoa's and the mushrooms, careful not to blow the corals.

First rock went well..

Here is the set-up. Hubby and Son are in the shop..working..I am in the SAME shop..doing these rocks. They are maybe 6 feet away from me, one at each end of the shop and I am in the middle cleaning these rocks.

Second rock I began and I look over to hubby HIS face is BEET RED and He is having a severe allergic attack. I set the rock down (not cluing in) go into the house get him some benadryl and we wonder what brought on this severe attack.

returning to the shop..and it smelled...Like dead coral..you know that smell if you have had to scrub corals before..The shop smelled like that.

So stupid

I just shrugged it off..and went back and cleaned the last rock...using the air hose.

By the time I was done. Our son was sick and my husband was really sick..And it STILL didn't clue in.

and then it hit my

I couldn't breath. It came on just that quick. My chest hurt so bad it felt like a elephant was sitting on me.

My son quickly thru on a breathing apparatus and got the pail, stool and rock out of the shop while hubby and I began to research.

You know there is not a whole lot of information on coral poisoning.

Palytoxin - but I KNEW that wasn't it, or we would be dead.

Everyone pumped themselves full of benadryl and our son went to his house to endure the weekend from hell.

By 9 PM I could barely breath, son and dad were having coughing fits, but I couldn't even cough, and we all had FEVERS, severe chills.

At 10 pm Hubby started saying maybe I need to go to the ER.

I refused.

Hubby stayed up all night with me, giving me benadryl and cough syrup and tylenol every 4 hours.

By morning, (saturday) I felt dead, but at least I could take more then a shallow breath.

Hubby and son were also very sick. All I can say is imagine the worse flu you have ever had and times it by 100.

We all spent saturday in bed (with son calling us and us calling him numerous times) Friends came and took care of Hubby and I, while Sons wife took care of him.

We coughed up so nasty gross coral smelly stuff out of our lungs, over and over again. The body aches were unbelievable. Sneezing, headache.

Sunday and Hubby and son are almost back to normal, some body aches, a little fatigue and thats it..

I have MS, I am not so lucky..

I spent sunday in bed..

Today I am heading to the doctors.. see my nose still bleeds, I am not coughing as bad, but i have some shortness of breath still, I am weak shaking , the MS of course has to rear up and toss its two cents into this mixture.

I don't want lectured. I KNOW BETTER. Hubby or I NEVER thought coral toxins can be air borne. I have beat myself up enough this weekend over this stupid mistake to last a life time. To think I wore a full face mask (we were worried about something splashing in my eyes and of course my gloves (self explanatory being corals) But never thought..a breathing apparatus, neither hubby or I and we are BOTH into corals and fish ..and sighs..


I just want to warn others..

07/22/2013, 08:52 AM
I suffered the same but not as severed. I boiled the rock on the stove top to kill aiptasia and some palys that I didn't remove and smelled the pot while it was boiling, just curios. The whole night it felt like a bad cold with a massive headache and progressively got worst. I'm a weightlifter and in very good physical condition and I knew then it was the boiling rock and search on the net, sure enough I got a whipped of the poison. I took lots of medication coz my wife wouldn't let me go to ER. Took a day and a half before it got out of my system. So yeah, I'm being careful around coral and not smelling them.

07/22/2013, 09:28 AM
Actually, it is possible that your experience was palytoxin. While palytoxin is incredibly toxic, the actual effects on a person greatly depends on how the toxin gets in the body - through an open cut (probably the worst possibility - direct to the bloodstream), inhalation of aerosols, or actual ingestion. There is little doubt that palytoxin could cause death in a human, and while there are several documented exposures in recent years, there have been no actual fatalities as far as I'm aware.

There is another possibility, though. Several species of marine algae produce potent toxins of various sorts, so it is possible you had one of these species in your reef, and received an inhalation exposure. Here is a description of one such type of poisoning caused by marine algae:


07/22/2013, 09:39 AM
Wow I did not know it was an airborne toxin either. Could it be that the toxin blew off and onto something that your husband/son were using? I always gear up before I deal with my polyps, no matter how goofy I look. I hope you are feeling better.

07/22/2013, 02:57 PM

To say the least my Doc was really surprised by my claims of coral poisoning. She sat with her little ipad and did some research, as well as called poison control. (they had NO idea and then after some research, adamantly stated that could not have been what happened to us three)

And the consensus as of today is palytoxin poisoning. She is putting some calls out to the Florida Marine Research institute for more information (think that is what she called it)

After a HUGE lecture about not getting to the ER, she listened to my lungs and tomorrow I go for xrays. She started me on an inhaler for a couple of weeks. She is my husband doctor AND my sons doctor (she is a GREAT doc) , she listened to hubbys lungs and he sounds good and she suggested our son pop in for a quick check up. (he is going in a few minutes)

Me..she believes (and so do we) that because I was up close and personal with the coral, and having MS, that, THAT is the reason why I am so sick.

I really do feel better today then say..friday..or sat..or even yesterday..but I am still pretty sick.

So just wanted to update and say YES that stuff can go air borne. If I find out anything new, I will post it here.

07/22/2013, 03:17 PM
Wow I did not know it was an airborne toxin either.

Most toxins can be aerosolized and are quite dangerous even though the base compound may not be a gas.

07/22/2013, 03:24 PM
I hope you have a speedy recovery and am grateful that you shared your experience. Awareness can truly prevent many incidents from occurring. Best of luck with everything.

07/22/2013, 03:33 PM
Using compressed air can vaporize the liquid/corals. Glad you are getting better. Palytoxin makes me paranoid working around zoas in my reef...

07/22/2013, 04:11 PM
There was another story like this here recently. Hunter1, I think it was yours actually...


Be careful with this stuff, people...

07/22/2013, 04:47 PM
I am glad to hear you are turning the corner. Especially if you are on any immunosuppressants for your MS, this could have been deathly serious for you, as well as your family.

I have seen people made very ill by stirring up allergens and toxins by using a compressed air sprayer, but never specifically aquarium-related. I have seen mold cause that type of reaction and even a person who got bird feathers (from cleaning parakeet cages) inhaled once.

07/22/2013, 05:00 PM
I am glad to hear you are turning the corner. Especially if you are on any immunosuppressants for your MS, this could have been deathly serious for you, as well as your family.

I have seen people made very ill by stirring up allergens and toxins by using a compressed air sprayer, but never specifically aquarium-related. I have seen mold cause that type of reaction and even a person who got bird feathers (from cleaning parakeet cages) inhaled once.

thank you everyone for your concern.

AZBigJohn I am actually taking betaseron and balcofen for the MS, the Doc was not impressed that I waited until today to see someone. I think having a chronic illness,I have a tendency to really down plays stuff....ohh its not that bad, I will be fine. Aww how wrong I was!

What amazes me is that I had a full face mask and gloves and to look at me one would have thought gee she is going over board with the coral protection!

I didn't go far enough for protection!!!

I just hope this gets on the net and others learn how bad it can be.

Our son has seen the doc and his lungs seem fine also. So it is just me with a rattle in my lungs and still some difficulty breathing. Tomorrow we will pull some exrays..:)

I still feel so bad that I did this. Sheesh how stupid!

Anyways am off to rest..:) our friends left us enough food for a couple of days so I don't even have to cook YA

07/22/2013, 05:41 PM
Thank you for sharing. Your story has hopefully kept other people from making the same mistake and suffering like you. My grandmother had MS and I must say it is a terrible disease. I will pray for you and your family's recovery.

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07/22/2013, 09:16 PM
thanks for the post glad everyone is doing better. i have gotten sick before being stupid & not wearing my gloves. not as bad as you describe but sick enough with no other explanation. people don`t realize just how toxic these things can be. i didnt have a clue until i started keeping a reef tank & reading up on everything. where i live you would be lucky to find a handful of doctors in the whole state that know anything about coral toxins.
hope x-rays are fine & you continue to get better

Get Hooked
07/23/2013, 08:51 AM
Can you be poisoned with palytoxin from any coral or only from Zoas and Palythoas?

Sugar Magnolia
07/23/2013, 09:55 AM
This also happened to a local reefer. He was hospitalized for a while and his lungs never fully recovered. Glad to hear you are feeling better.

07/23/2013, 10:58 AM
Glad to hear your doing better!

I admittedly don't wear much for protection when I frag zoos (the rocks are still in the tank and I use an exacto knife to "peel" the mat up with my arm in the tank....)

I better change my ways...


07/23/2013, 03:15 PM
Don't beat yourself up. You made a mistake and it sounds like nobody is going to suffer any lasting harm. And thanks for sharing your example with the rest of us.

I don't think it would have occurred to me either that blowing off the rocks would be problematic, but as a professional woodworker, I have learned to be very diligent about thinking through a brilliantly simple "new" idea. Very often, there's a really good, but not necessarily obvious, reason why something is done in a slow and onerous way.

07/23/2013, 05:02 PM
Can you be poisoned with palytoxin from any coral or only from Zoas and Palythoas?

Zoas and Palys are the only corals that carry palytoxin, although there are many other toxins and poisons that other species of corals carry that could harm us.

To the OP, hope everything improves for you. As a paramedic, I'm amazed that you didn't call 911 either (unfortunately people call for far less). To be honest I would have never thought of the possibility of aerosolizing the toxin either. Thanks for sharing, and hopefully we can all learn from this.

07/23/2013, 06:15 PM
Amazing what can be airborne related.

Some YEARS AGO, when I was a kid in SC, a neighbor was burning some brush & there was a lot of poison ivy/oak in it. One of his kids was helping & got into the smoke and had a severe reaction to the poison ivy/oak that alomst killed him.