Playing in the ocean is great fun! Like most things that are fun, there are some guidelines that need to be followed to avoid injury. Being aware of the flags, knowing how to escape rip currents and how to perform CPR are essentials, but do you know how to treat a jellyfish sting? Most people don’t, and there are plenty of old wives’ tales about how to treat them. You don’t necessarily have to be in the water to be stung by a jellyfish either. They wash up on the beach all the time and are often stepped on.
In the event that you do have a run-in with a jellyfish, here is what you need to know:
If any tentacles remain stuck to the skin after exiting the water, remove them using a flat object (like a credit card). Do not rub them off with your hands (you don’t want more stings!) or a towel (which can aggravate the sting even more). Rinse the sting with seawater (using fresh water may activate singers that have not yet released venom).
Next, deactivate the stingers: Rinsing with vinegar for at least 30 seconds works for some species, while a paste of baking soda and seawater works for sings caused by Portuguese man-of-war and sea nettle jellyfish.
Finally, relieve pain by soaking the sting in hot water for at least 20 minutes. (Note: Despite the folklore, urinating on a jellyfish sting may actually cause the stingers to release more venom, rather than providing relief.)
Here are the symptoms you may experience after a sting:
- Discolored lines – the jellyfish’s “handprint” from where it touched you
- Burning or throbbing pain
The handprint may last a month or two, but the symptoms will fade within one or two weeks. If a jellyfish sting is severe enough, it can cause more violent reactions from your body (systemic reaction) as your immune systems tries to cope with the toxin. Jellyfish stingers are essentially microscopic hypodermic needles, so the toxin will be in your body, not just on your skin.
Additional symptoms may include:
- Vomiting or nausea
- Weakness or dizziness
- Loss of motor control
- Joint pain
- Breathing/heart trouble
- Cardiac arrest
You should see a doctor if the sting covers a large portion of your body, or if you experience any of the systemic/severe reactions. These may indicate a need for medical intervention, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.