WHILE it is quite rare for a jellyfish sting to require medical attention, the first things to check off as you treat a sting injury are the three reasons that should make you call for medical help.
- Does the sting cover a large area of the torso, more than half of your leg, more than half of your arm, or your genitals?
- Has it triggered an allergic reaction, such as nausea, heart palpitations, dizziness or difficulty breathing, or even shock?
- Was the sting from a box jellyfish (found in Australia, Hawaii and the Indo-Pacific region)?
If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of the above, the sting will require immediate treatment from medical services.
Otherwise, treatment of a jellyfish sting can be simple and straightforward.
The first rule to follow is not to panic. While that may be easier said than done in the heat of the moment, it is important that you remain calm.
This is particularly important if you are still in the water. Try not to thrash about or rush to the shore as this increases the possibility of being stung repeatedly. Instead, get out of the water as calmly as you can to assess the sting.
Do not scratch the affected area, or try to touch it in any way. It is possible that tentacles or barbed stinging tissue are still attached to your skin.
Instead, rinse the area with seawater. This should swill any clinging tentacles from the skin. Fresh water is not as effective as seawater for this process.
One you have rinsed, do not use a towel to dry the area as it is possible some barbs remain on the skin.
It is likely at this point that someone will be charging in, clutching at their trousers and insisting they pee on the patient. Using urine as some kind of antidote to a jellyfish sting is a complete myth. Politely ask them to re-holster their tackle so that you can get back to treating the sting with science.
A mixture of vinegar and hot water is the most globally-recognised treatment for jellyfish stings. It will not only ease the pain, but also cause any tentacles or stinging material remaining on the skin to wither, thereby reduce their potency.
Repeatedly douse the area for about a minute.
Do not try to wipe away tentacles with a towel or clothing as this may cause further stinging. Instead, use a scraping action with the edge of a flat piece of plastic like a credit card. In some countries lifeguards keep cans of shaving foam for this process as it can be very helpful in the scraping process.
Remain as still as possible while scraping. Any movement risks more of the jellyfish’s toxins entering your skin.
Remember that the jellyfish material you have scraped could still contain stinging cells, so be vigilant and dispose of what you can (apart from your credit card – just give that a good rinse off).
Once you have completed the scraping process, use hot water to treat the pain.
Water around 40C to 45C is the most effective at breaking down the venom which, in turn, will ease pain and discomfort.
Aftercare treatment for a jellyfish sting
Use over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen to ease any inflammation and pain, and keep any wounds clean and dressed regularly.
The pain from a jellyfish sting usually dulls within 20 minutes after treatment, and then becomes almost unnoticeable within 24 hours.
If the pain persists beyond 24 hours, it may require a medical professional.