Cnidarian envenomations cause a burning-pain sensation of which the underlying mechanisms are unknown. Activation of TRPV1, a non-selective cation channel expressed in nociceptive neurons, leads to cell depolarisation and pain. Here, we show in vitro and in vivo evidence for desensitization-dependent TRPV1 activation in cnidarian envenomations. Cnidarian venom induced a nociceptive reactivity, comparable to capsaicin, in laboratory rats, which could be reduced by the selective TRPV1 antagonist, BCTC. These findings are the first to explain at least part of the symptomology of cnidarian envenomations and provide insights into the design of more effective treatments for this global public health problem.