First aid treatment for jellyfish stings

Stinging cells on the jellyfish tentacles pierce the skin and shoot venom inside. If left in contact with the skin, they continue to release venom causing intense pain, burning, and sometimes even anaphylactic shock.

Symptoms

Severe itching lasts for 1-2 hours, red welts tend to go away within a day but may last for up to several weeks.

To minimize jellyfish encounters, it’s better to ask the lifeguards or locals if there have been reports of any highly venomous species in the area. You can even get stung by stepping on a piece of stinging tentacle or dead jellyfish washed ashore.

You can develop various reactions to a jellyfish sting.

  • Local – long red welts on the skin, pain, burning sensation, itching, and blistering in severe cases
  • General – if stung multiple times, you may experience nausea, vomiting, weakness, vertigo, and headache
  • Anaphylaxis – a severe life-threatening allergic reaction

How to treat a jellyfish sting

  • Rinse away the tentacles using salt water
  • Don’t use fresh water as it will cause the stinging cells, nematocysts, to activate and worsen the stinging pain
  • Avoid scrubbing the sting site or rubbing alcohol. Keep rinsing it with salt water till you can get vinegar
  • Rinse the area with a 5% acetic acid vinegar (or dilute the 9% vinegar) for about 15 minutes

❗️ Exception

If you get stung by Chesapeake Bay jellyfish, use baking soda instead.
Peel off the remaining tentacles using a credit card or table knife (with gloved hands; never touch them with bare hands). Put any baby cream on the sting.
If there are any cysts clinging to your body hair, shave them with a razor. Rinse the affected area with vinegar for another 15 minutes. To relieve strong pain, take Advil (ibuprofen).

Applying ice packs or a thin cloth soaked in cold water may help with pain and swelling. For itching, cover the sting site with a hormone-containing cream.

When to see a doctor

  • The sting was to the mouth, eye or large part of the body (both legs, both arms) or if blisters occur
  • There are signs of infection, high fever, and pain persists for over 24 hours after treatment
  • The affected area remains swollen or red for 48 hours after the sting
  • Severe itching persists on the next day after taking topical steroids
  • Redness lasts for over 2 weeks
  • You experience abdominal pains and/or vomiting
  • There are changes in consciousness, difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • You have muscle spasms or pain
  • It’s been over 10 years since your last tetanus shot
  • You think your child who’s got stung needs to be examined, his or her condition gets worse or you have questions to the doctor
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