For many families, playing at the beach on the ocean is a tradition, but don't let a jellyfish's sting take the fun out if it. Here's what you need to do should you or one of your family members gets stung by a jellyfish.
What are jellyfish?
Scientist have determined that jellyfish have been on the planet for millions of years, and, they are not just found here in he United States, but they live in oceans all over the world. There is more than one kind of jellyfish; some look like small, clear blobs, and others are large, colorful creatures with tentacles that extend below their bodies.
The tentacles are what stings. A jellyfish releases a venom when they sting their prey, which will paralyze them. Jellyfish are not natural predators of humans, but any living thing that swims up against or even touches one. Even if the jellyfish is dead, it can deliver a good sting.
Though a jellyfish's sting is painful, generally they are not emergencies. In addition to the pain, the average sting will also cause red marks, itching, numbness and tingling.
However, not all jellyfish stings are this tame. For example, there are some jellyfish, such as the box jellyfish (or sea wasp, as they may be called) that are very dangerous and can even be fatal. They are generally found in the Indian Ocean, central Pacific Ocean, the Philippines, and Australia.
What happens when a jellyfish stings?
When a jellyfish stings, thousands of very tiny stingers called nematocysts are left in the skin. These potent stingers can continue to release (or "shoot") venom while still in the body of its victim.
The best thing to do is use vinegar and rinse the entire sting. The acidity of the vinegar should be enough to prevent the stingers from continuing to fire (especially from the box jellyfish). Be careful, though, because rinsing the sting with cool fresh water might antagonize the stingers and will fire more. It is believed that rinsing the sting in water is seawater will prevent the release of additional venom. However, some experts think that it may make it worse.
Do NOT try to scrape off the stingers still in your skin. This, too, may make it worse.
Here is how to handle a jellyfish sting:
- Get the individual sting out of the water or away from the jellyfish
- Immediately rinse the sting with vinegar. (It's a good idea to keep a plastic bottle filled with vinegar in your beach bag.)
- Do NOT rub the sting area, this will make it hurt more.
- Use a pair of tweezers to pull out the tentacles in the skin. Don't scrape the sting area using a credit card (or similar).
- Never apply ice in any form to a sting. A hot shower may help lessen the pain (or a hot bath).
- Consult with a healthcare professional to see if they recommend a pain reliever for your child.
You will need to call an ambulance immediately if someone has a sting and also:
- is having difficulty swallowing or breathing
- has swollen lips, tongue, or has a change in their voice
- has a really bad pain or generally feels sick
- is nauseous or is vomiting
- is dizzy or has a headache
- is having muscle spasms
- has multiple stings all over their body
- the sting is in their mouth or eye
- may have been stung by a very dangerous type of jellyfish
How to avoid jellyfish stings
Beaches with staffed lifeguards on duty are generally more likely to warn beachgoers about jellyfish dangers. Watch for signs or warning flags (some beaches will fly a purple flag when the potential is there for dangerous marine life). Make sure you double check that you have a plastic bottle of vinegar and a pair of tweezers before you head out to enjoy the beach.