Ah, vacation. The time for crafting idyllic beach plans and intentionally forgetting about all of the inconveniences, and potential hazards, the ocean can bring.
Jellyfish stings happen more frequently than you might think, accounting for an estimated 200,000-plus incidents each year. A lot of people don’t realize that such stings can actually kill too — so preparation is crucial, and potentially life-saving.
But before we dive into how to deal with a sting, you might want some tips on how to avoid one to begin with.
First, you should know that jellyfish are found in every ocean. They’re even found in some freshwater ponds and lakes. They can be so tiny that you might not even see them and they can also exceed the length of a blue whale, when you count the length of their tentacles (so let that thought haunt you — we're sorry).
To make matters even murkier, even tiny jellyfish can be quite toxic. When something (like your foot) becomes entangled with a tentacle, the pressure will often lead to the release of venom. And a tentacle can sting you even if it’s detached from the rest of the body; in fact, it can even sting you if the jellyfish is dead.
A few things you can do to lower your risk of a jellyfish sting are to wear a wetsuit or another form of protective clothing when possible. Even nylon pantyhose will dramatically reduce your chances of being stung. As well, use a protective lotion. There are some products on the market that work to deter stings; Safe Sea is one good option.
Beyond that, you might want to avoid swimming altogether during jellyfish season. Find out when that is for where you’ll be visiting and avoid the water or be more cautious during that time.
Of course, you should always pay attention to any warning signs on the beach. If you see a lifeguard or even locals — such as fishermen — ask them what they're seeing out there.
And then if you do see one, like on the beach — don’t touch a jellyfish, not even if it’s dead.
Now moving on to what to do if you do get stung by a jellyfish: First, stay calm. How you treat the sting in the immediate aftermath of receiving it can impact how much it hurts. A new study out of the University of Hawaii has identified that Lion’s Mane jellyfish stings are best treated with a vinegar rinse and then a hot water or heat pack treatment for 40 minutes. Lots of sources (including Popular Science) seem to agree that vinegar is the way to go, no matter which specific kind of jellyfish is behind your sting.
"Your best bet in a pinch is to douse your skin — and the tentacles on it — in vinegar," according to PopSci. Find the most highly-concentrated stuff that you can and pour it on."
Why? Well, "Vinegar inactivates the jelly’s nematocysts so they can’t fire, which means when you go to remove the tentacles you won’t end up with more venom than before."
After you’ve rinsed with vinegar, you need to examine the area and see if any stingers remain. If there are some in your skin, remove them with tweezers. Do not, as many people recommend, scrape them off. Scraping will actually cause more pressure, which will release more venom. In some cases, that extra venom from scraping could be the difference between an annoying jellyfish sting and death. Seriously.
Other don’ts: Don’t try to rinse the sting with alcohol, which will just make it worse. Seawater probably won’t help either, and old home remedies like shaving cream and baking soda have never been shown to do anything productive. Also, you won't get relieve from icing the wound — it’s heat you want.
If you can get your hands on a product like Sting No More to take to the beach with you, you won’t regret it. Not only does this spray douse your wound with vinegar, but it allows for the remaining tentacles to simply be washed away, as well.
So, to sum up in a simple digest you might try to quickly recall when you're in the midst of pain on the beach: If you’re stung, rinse with vinegar. After the vinegar rinse, tweeze any remaining tentacles carefully out of your skin. Then apply heat via hot water or a heat pack to the site of the injury for 40 minutes or so.
If your symptoms become serious — think chest pain, vomiting, or difficulty swallowing — you need to seek medical attention.
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