Most jellyfish stings can be treated with relatively simple at-home remedies. Appropriate steps include:
- Remove tentacles. When you come into contact with a jellyfish tentacle, it may detach from the jellyfish and stick to your skin. Remove any remaining pieces of tentacle by washing the area with seawater. Avoid using fresh water, because it may activate the venomous stingers (nematocysts) that are embedded in your skin but have not yet released venom. Also avoid touching the tentacles with your hands. If necessary, use an object like a credit card to gently brush it off. Rubbing it off with a towel or clothing is likely to cause the discharge of more venom.
- Deactivate stingers. Generously rinsing the affected area with vinegar for at least 30 seconds may deactivate the nematocysts of some species — essentially shutting down the nematocysts embedded in the skin that have not yet discharged venom. A deactivating treatment recommended for sea nettles or Portuguese man-of-wars is a paste made of baking soda and seawater.
- Relieve pain or irritation. There has been some disagreement over whether cold or heat is better for relieving pain. However, recent studies have suggested that soaking the affected area in tolerably hot fresh water for at least 20 minutes — after the vinegar or baking soda treatment — may be more effective in pain relief, because the heat may decrease the potency of the venom. The temperature should be between 104 and 113 F (40 and 45 C). Lotions or ointments, such as calamine lotion or lidocaine, may relieve itching or discomfort.
Remedies to avoid
A number of at-home treatments have been proposed, but they’re generally not recommended, either because there's no research backing up their use or research indicates they aren't effective. These remedies include:
Sep. 01, 2011
- Human urine
- Meat tenderizer
- Pressure bandages
- Marcus EN, et al. Jellyfish stings. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed May 20, 2011.
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- Isbister GK. Trauma and envenomations from marine fauna. In: Tintinalli JE, et al. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=6379433. Accessed May 20, 2011.
- Junghanss T, et al. Medically important venomous animals: Biology, prevention, first aid, and clinical management. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2006;43:1309.
- Markenson D, et al. Part 13: First aid: 2010 American Heart Association and American Red Cross International consensus on first aid science with treatment recommendations. Circulation. 2011;122:S582.