The severity of reactions to jellyfish stings depend on a number of factors, including the species and size of the jellyfish, the age and size of the person, the duration of exposure, and the area of skin affected. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Immediate burning pain
  • Red, brown or purplish tracks on the skin — essentially a "print" of a tentacle's contact with your skin
  • Itching
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Throbbing pain that may radiate up a leg or arm to the torso

If left untreated the symptoms generally resolve within one to two weeks. Discoloration of the skin may last one to two months.

Severe jellyfish stings can affect multiple body systems (systemic reaction), not just your skin. These reactions may appear rapidly or several hours after a sting. Signs and symptoms of severe jellyfish stings can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness
  • Trouble controlling muscle movement
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Painful joints
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sudden loss of heart function (cardiac arrest)

When to see a doctor

Although jellyfish stings can be quite painful, most are minor and get better with home treatment.

Seek emergency treatment if:

  • Stings cover large areas of skin
  • You have any systemic symptoms or a severe reaction
Sep. 01, 2011