Few things are as relaxing and fun as spending a day soaking up the rays on the beach. Be it with the family, a few friends or simply a solo trip to the beach with a favorite book, there’s something about the ocean air and summer sand that makes the beach a favorite locale for so many people around the world.
But, nearly everyone who has been to the beach has also fallen victim to one of the ocean’s more formidable residents. Jellyfish stings are almost as common as sunburns when going to the beach. While beachgoers can protect themselves from sunburn with some sunscreen or a beach umbrella, no such protection from jellyfish exists. Ocean swimmers might not be able to protect themselves against jellyfish stings, but knowing how to treat one can make all the difference.
What Happens When a Jellyfish Stings?
Jellyfish often thrive when the water is at its warmest, making late summer the most likely time to be stung by a jellyfish. When that happens, it’s often because a person has brushed up against a jellyfish’s tentacles. Those tentacles contain nematocysts filled with venom that lodge in the skin once a person has brushed up against or stepped on a jellyfish. While it’s most likely to happen in the water, beachgoers who aren’t careful might also step on a jellyfish that’s near the water’s edge, often along the wet sand. The jellyfish can even get you from beyond the grave, as a person can be stung by a dead jellyfish.
How Can a Jellyfish Sting Be Treated?
Because they’re so common, many veteran beachgoers are familiar with treating a jellyfish sting. However, for those who are new to the jellyfish sting game, the following approach is an effective means to treating a sting.
- Remove the tentacles. Jellyfish have many nematocysts that can keep stinging until they’ve run out of venom, meaning a single jellyfish can do lots of damage to swimmers who are not aware they have been stung. That said, be sure to remove all the tentacles first by lifting them off the skin. Ideally, do so with a stick to avoid being stung on the hands or arms. Do not scrape the tentacles off the skin, as that will likely result in more stings as the tentacles brush up against the skin.
- Use sea water to rinse the skin. Fresh water activates the nematocysts, leading to more painful stings. When rinsing, do so with sea water and avoid scrubbing the skin. Scrubbing also activates the nematocysts, so the most effective and least painful approach is to simply rinse the affected area with sea water.
- Trust in vinegar. Using vinegar to treat a jellyfish sting is not just an old wives’ tale. White vinegar deactivates the unfired nematocysts, keeping beachgoers from any further stings. Because jellyfish stings are so common, beaches in Australia often provide or sell vinegar, and many beachgoers in Australia bring vinegar along to the beach to treat potential stings. One old wives’ tale that does not appear to bear any merit is using urine to treat jellyfish stings. Though some swear by it, this treatment has not been proven to be effective.
- Another lesser known treatment is using baking powder. Dust the affected area with baking powder or flour if vinegar or sea water isn’t working. Other alternatives include lemon juice, meat tenderizer, rubbing alcohol, or household ammonia.
- Be sure to remove the stingers. Removing the stingers is an important part of treating a sting. Use the dull edge of a knife, preferably a butter knife, and scrape the nematocysts. Shaving the area similar to shaving your face or legs might also be an effective way to treat a sting. At the beach, you can also use sand and a shell to scrape away the nematocysts.
- Don’t ignore the pain. Sunburn treatments you might already bring to the beach can be doubly effective when used to treat pain resultant from jellyfish stings. Products that contain lidocaine or benzocaine might help treat the pain or redness resulting from a sting.