(Q) "Hey DocV,
It has been a couple weeks....I had to grab a ledge (at the direction of our Palau guide, in a stiff current, with a big camera) and thought I had a "barren spot" but I came out with little nicks that turned into oozing festering wounds that are now sloughing like a spider bite, the skin sloughing off. It is like aliens are in there, trying to get out. Somebody yesterday on the boat said coral can live in your skin and you have to get it cut out. Is this true? How long should I wait? Messing up my holiday manicure schedule."
(A) "Hi C...,
No, it is not physiologically possible for coral cells to live on or within the human body.
However, it is possible for fragments of coral to become lodged beneath the dermis and for the body to mount a prolonged allergic reaction to them with subsequent sloughing of affected skin. In some cases, debridement or even surgical removal is required to resolve the reaction.
It is also possible for coral scrapes/punctures to become infected, a situation that also requires treatment. This needs to be carefully monitored.
Even in the absence of embedded coral remnants or infection, it is not unusual for a marked hypersensitivity response to a coral injury to continue for 3-4 weeks before significantly improving.
A diver with such a complaint that lasts longer than this should consult a dermatologist. An x-ray may be useful in imaging coral fragments large enough to require removal and topical/systemic antibiotics may be useful in resolving infection.
Best of luck.