One of the most common injuries to occur at every beach trip is the jellyfish sting, along with other marine stings. Jellyfish are invertebrates that live in the marine ecosystem around the world. Although most jellyfish stings are harmless, these species can be dangerous to humans.
A 2009 report suggests several hazards are present when thinking of the coastal beaches. These include about 69% of tropical marine stingers and 60% of other marine stingers. However, many beachgoers largely ignore these hazards. It means that visitors are not ready when they cross paths with these types of dangers.
Spending time outdoors and swimming in the sea is a great joy but a jellyfish sting can spoil the fun. These species swim in waters off beaches and their stings pose a risk to swimmers. Jellyfish have no brain, no eyes, no spine, and not even blood. Still, they have a remarkable capacity to reproduce and can pack an impressive (and sometimes deadly) sting on their victims.
Jellyfish stings are not usually life-threatening. In most cases, they just require basic first aid to relieve the symptoms.
Jellyfish protect themselves with the ‘nematocysts’ found on their tentacles. You may come into contact with the jellyfish nematocysts while swimming in the ocean or walking on the beach. When these make contact with your skin, a small sharp harpoon-like structure or the ‘stingers’ pierces the skin. Once the stinger injects into your body, there is a chance that it will deposit venom. The jellyfish sting pain is known for its two parts: a skin puncture and a pain-inducing substance in the puncture wound. Whether the stingers pierce the skin depends on the type of jellyfish and whether they have long and sharp stingers.
A sting can be anywhere from mildly painful to deadly, again, depending on which type of jellyfish stung you. The famous box jellyfish alone are responsible for more deaths than sharks worldwide. The severity of a jelly sting also depends on certain risk factors, including your age, size, and health. It also includes how long is your exposure to the stingers and how much of your skin is affected.
An estimate of 150 million jellyfish sting incidents occurs every year. Hundreds of them are fatal and mostly because jellyfish appear beyond their usual habitats. The question of whether the numbers of jellyfish stings are increasing is up for debate. Yet, many tourists still fail to factor potential jellyfish first aid into their plans.
Some jellyfish stings can be life-threatening. It is important to seek emergency help if you have severe symptoms after a jellyfish sting.
Signs and symptoms
If you are stung by a certain jellyfish species, you may suffer from Irukandji syndrome.
Irukandji syndrome is a condition that results from box jellyfish envenomation. The sting may cause you to feel mild pain and develop a goosebump-like skin reaction. In rare cases, the sting may result in a cardiac arrest. If this happens, perform CPR and defibrillation first aid immediately.
Mild jellyfish stings usually cause minor pain, numbness, itching, and, in some cases, a rash. While more serious jellyfish stings can cause greater harm. You should seek medical help if you experience severe symptoms, including:
- severe limb, abdominal, and back pain
- muscle cramps
- skin blistering
- nausea or vomiting
- profuse sweating
- sometimes difficulty breathing
- very rapid heart rate
- high blood pressure
Managing jellyfish stings is a subject of confusion to many. The official advice on handling jellyfish emergencies needs revising to make it clear, consistent, and effective. If you experience, here are some first aid steps to follow:
- Check the water first and its surrounding area before approaching the victim. Once it is safe, conduct a primary assessment. Call emergency services or if there is a lifeguard or paramedics on the location ask them for
- Rinse the sting area with plenty of seawater. Do NOT use fresh water when. Avoid applying vinegar, ammonia, alcohol, or other liquids unless you determine what type of jellyfish cause your sting.
- Try to carefully remove any remaining tentacles on the sting area. Protect your hands while doing this by using a clean stick, tweezers, heavy gloves, or a towel. Then, apply shaving cream or baking soda paste with water. Shave the area with a razor or scrape it using the edge of a credit card.
- After successfully removing the tentacles, a study recommends treating the area with hot water immersion for 45 minutes. This will help to relieve pain and slow the progress of the venom. Evidence suggests that it should be at least 108 degrees4 up to 140 degrees to take effect. Gradually work up the water temperature and be careful not to cause burns. Do not apply ice on the sting area as it can make the sting much, much worse.
- Do not rub your skin with a towel nor apply a pressure bandage to the injury.
- Treat pain with an over-the-counter pain reliever. If pain is severe, see a doctor for more effective relief.
- Treat itching with an over-the-counter medication such as anti-histamine or use topical anti-itch cream. If itching is severe, consult a doctor and come up with an action plan.
When to seek help:
See professional help if the jellyfish sting is in the mouth, near the eye, on a large skin area.
Call emergency help if the symptoms are anything other than minor discomfort. If the person has trouble breathing, starts wheezing, or develops hives, it could be a symptom of a severe allergic reaction.
Jellyfish Sting Myths
There are popular methods to relieve the pain of a jellyfish sting. One is applying urine on the sting.
Does peeing on the jellyfish sting helps? The answer is a big NO. There is no scientific evidence that back-up peeing on a jellyfish sting can make it feel better. Numerous studies have found that this method simply does not work.
Our urine contains compounds like ammonia and urea. If we use it alone, these substances may be helpful for some sting types. However, the urine also has a lot of water in it. And all that water weakens the ammonia and urea compound too much for it to be effective.
Despite what anyone tells you, never apply urine, vinegar, or meat tenderizer to the sting area.
To avoid getting stung, stay out of the water when jellyfish are known to be present in a particular area. Ask lifeguards or park rangers if there are any jellyfish on the beach area. Wear a protective bodysuit if you have plans to swim or dive. Also, never touch a jellyfish or any of its parts. Even a dead jellyfish can give a nasty sting that can cause pain and rashes at the site of contact.