What to Do With Jelly Fish Stings

Even other sea creatures fear the jelly fish. (photo from http://www.animatedheroes.com/marlin.html)

I love surfing and the beach but there’s one thing that I hate about plunging into the saltwater – jellyfish. Jellyfish are free-swimming, non-aggressive, gelatinous marine animals surrounded by tentacles that are covered with sacs (nematocysts) filled with poison (venom). In most cases, jellyfish stings aren’t life threatening, but they can be.

Jellyfish are found throughout the world. But, the most deadly are found in the Indo-Pacific and Australian waters. They are usually found near the surface of the water during times of diminished light, floating in the water column, or after washing up on the beach.

Jellyfish stings are generally accidental, since they’re gelatinous and most are transparent, they’re not very easy to spot. You can swim or wade into a jellyfish unknowingly, and complications can sometimes arise when you carelessly handle them. Sometime, you’ll only know that you’ve been stung when you feel the itching  and see the red, brown or purplish tracks on your skin.

The severity of reactions to stings would depend on several factors such as the species and size of the jellyfish, your age and size, how long you’ve been exposed, and the area of skin affected. Other signs and symptoms include: immediate burning pain, tingling and numbness; throbbing pain that may radiate up a leg or arm to the torso. The symptoms are generally resolved within one to two weeks without treatment. Discoloration of the skin may last one to two months.

Even other  sea creatures fear the jelly fish. (photo from  http://www.animatedheroes.com/marlin.html)
Even other sea creatures fear the jelly fish. (photo from http://www.animatedheroes.com/marlin.html)

What to do In case of Jelly Fish Sting

  • Soak or rinse the area and tentacles for 10 minutes or more, before attempting to remove them. Use vinegar to stop the nematocysts from releasing their toxins. The acidity of vinegar should neutralize some or all of the unfired nematocysts. If vinegar is not available, use 70% isopropyl alcohol or Safe Sea Jellyfish After Sting pain relief gel. You can also use sea water, but do not use fresh water. Fresh water will cause the nematocysts to continue to release their toxin. Make it a point to remove the tentacles because the victim will keep getting stung until all the nematocysts are used up. Use gloves, thick clothing, tweezers, sticks, or the like to very gently detach it from the skin. Don’t touch the tentacle with your bare skin and try to minimize its movement on the skin of the person being stung. Jellyfish tentacles can still sting even after they’ve been ripped from the body of the jellyfish.
  • Apply shaving cream or a paste of baking soda to the area. Shave the area with a razor or credit card to remove any adherent nematocysts. Then reapply vinegar or alcohol. The shaving cream or paste prevents nematocysts that have not been activated from releasing their toxin during removal with the razor.
  • There has been some disagreement over whether cold or heat is better for relieving pain. However, recent studies have suggested that soaking the affected area in tolerably hot fresh water for at least 20 minutes — after the vinegar or baking soda treatment — may be more effective in pain relief, because the heat may decrease the potency of the venom. The temperature should be between 104 and 113 F (40 and 45 C). Lotions or ointments, such as calamine lotion or lidocaine, may relieve itching or discomfort.
  • Contrary to popular belief, urine will not work on a jellyfish sting. Some victims have reported pain relief, but urine does not always have enough acid to neutralize the venom. The problem may get worse, as does washing the sting with fresh water without prior treatment.
  • Do not try to put ice on it before properly treating the area, which is sometimes people’s initial inclination to try to take away some of the pain and swelling. If you put ice on it, what you’ll actually do is make it worse, which can be serious business in some cases, even causing death.
  • Eye stings should be rinsed with a commercial saline solution like Artificial Tears and do not place vinegar directly in the eyes. Dab the skin around the eyes with a towel that has been soaked in vinegar.
  • If the sting is inside your mouth, gargle and swish around in your mouth a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, then spit it out (don’t swallow!). Repeat this step a few times.
  • For pain, take acetaminophen (Tylenol) 325 mg 1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours for pain; or Ibuprofen (Motrin) every 8 hours for pain. Take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, or applying a hydrocortisone cream to the area will help reduce itching and swelling.

Some cases, though, could get severe and affect multiple body systems (systemic reaction), not just the skin, but these symptoms will appear rapidly or several hours after a sting. Immediately seek medical help if the following occurs:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • Headache
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness
  • Trouble controlling muscle movement
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Painful joints
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sudden loss of heart function (cardiac arrest)

Seek someone who can do CPR if the person stops breathing and/or no longer has a pulse.

Web References: