How to Treat Jellyfish Stings

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Jellyfish stings are relatively common problems when swimming, surfing or diving. Their stings often lead to no serious problem but there are a few species that may cause life-threatening problems to humans. It is important to note that jellyfish found in the shore, or those that appear to be dead, are still capable of stinging and causing pain to humans. Jellyfish stings will continue to cause pain while the tentacles remain in contact with the skin.

Jellyfish are found in both the cold and warm parts of the ocean and more dangerously, along the shorelines. These jellyfish contain tentacles that have microscopic barbed stingers (stinging cells) that release venom. This venom is usually released in response to threat (thus it is used as a means of protection) or when capturing their prey before consuming them.

The Most Dangerous Jellyfish Stings

Majority of jellyfish species do not cause harm to humans, particularly those with short tentacles. The most toxic specie of jellyfish known to human is the Australian Box-like Sea Wasp. The other dangerous jellyfish stings may come from:

  • Box Jellyfish (also called sea wasp)
    • Causes intense pain
    • May lead to serious reactions
    • Usually found in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans
  • Portuguese man-of-war (also called bluebottle jellyfish)
    • Mostly thrive in warmer seas
    • Has a blur to purplish gas-filled bubble that allows it to stay on the water surface and act as a sail
  • Sea nettle
    • Common in both cold and warm seawaters
    • Usually found in Chesapeake Bay and northeast coast of the United States
  • Lion’s mane jellyfish
    • Largest jellyfish in the world (diameter = 1 meter or 3 feet)
    • Most common in cooler, northern regions of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans

Signs and Symptoms of Jellyfish Stings

Signs and symptoms of jellyfish stings usually emerge as soon as the stinging occurs. These include:

  • Immediate, intense, stinging pain
  • Itching
  • Rashes
  • Raised welts

The more serious of jellyfish stings to watch out for are:

  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Arrhythmia
  • Tingling sensation or numbness
  • Muscle spasms

For severe reactions to jellyfish stings, the following signs and symptoms may occur:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coma
  • Death – which may sometimes occur within minutes

First Aid Management for Jellyfish Stings

Most cases of jellyfish stings can be managed at home with appropriate First Aid Training. There is usually no need for emergency medical services unless serious or severe signs or symptoms manifest. To administer first aid on jellyfish stings, do the following steps:

If possible, wear gloves to help eliminate contact between tentacles and the rescuer.

If possible, wear gloves to help eliminate contact between tentacles and the rescuer.

  • If possible, wear gloves. This can help eliminate contact between tentacles and the rescuer.
  • To remove the remaining tentacles from the skin, use tweezers or a clean stick.
  • To remove the remaining nematocysts (small poisonous sacs) stuck on the skin, apply shaving cream and use a razor blade or credit card.
  • Soak the stung area in vinegar for 15 to 30 minutes to avoid the further release of toxins. If there is no vinegar available, use alcohol or seawater instead.
  • Do not rub the area. Do not apply ice. More importantly, contrary to popular belief, urine should not be poured on the stung area. These will help avoid further damage to the stung area.
  • For stings of Portuguese man-of-war (a type of jellyfish), do not apply vinegar or alcohol as it may exacerbate the pain. The pain will usually last only for 15 to 20 minutes.

Jellyfish have tentacles that have microscopic barbed stingers that release venom. Jellyfish stings are relatively common problem that may vary in severity and can usually be managed at home.

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  • All lifeguardfirstaid.ca content is reviewed by a medical professional and / sourced to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

  • We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable websites, academic research institutions and medical articles.

  • If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please contact us through our contact us page.