Jellyfish are, unfortunately, unavoidable. These stinging creatures are found in virtually every ocean and beach in the world, regardless of whether you’re at Bondi Beach or Santa Monica Beach. Jellyfish have existed for 500 million years, and they’re not going anywhere any time soon!
A common misconception about jellyfish is that they deliberately swim towards people wading in the water to sting them.
However, jellyfish have no control over where they go in the water – instead, they rely on the movements of the currents. This means that you are far more likely to walk into a jellyfish than have one swim into you.
It’s no secret that jellyfish stings hurt. Each jellyfish will have varying methods of stinging their prey and potential predators, all of which come with varying degrees of pain and how long the venom lasts in the body.
As there are many species of jellyfish in the world that can sting you, we can’t say there is one surefire universal way to cure a jellyfish sting.
If you’ve been unfortunate enough to get stung by a jellyfish, or you’re preparing yourself for the worst as you head to the beach, here is everything you need to know about how to cure a jellyfish sting!
What Jellyfish Sting?
All jellyfish have tentacles and most have the ability to sting humans, though not every jellyfish species can cause harm to humans. In most cases, humans will come away from a jellyfish sting unscathed.
Here are the four types of jellyfish to be cautious around:
Also known as a bluebottle, the Portuguese Man-Of-War is known for painful stings that can last anywhere between 30 minutes to several hours depending on the location and size of the sting.
Their venom targets the lymph nodes, which is why some people experience swilling with this pain. This species is commonly found in warmer temperatures, particularly in Australia where they are known to sting up to 10,000 Australians every year.
Found on the east coast of the United States of America, sea nettles are the culprit of quite a lot of stinging incidents. Depending on the size and location of the sting, stung humans will feel either a small sting or searing pain that can last several minutes to a couple of hours.
Named after their box-like shape, box jellyfish are found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. These jellyfish are notorious for their venomous stings that can be fatal to humans if they are so unlucky, although the stings are rare.
The box jellyfish is actually the umbrella term for over 50 species of jellyfish, which is why scientists will often disagree with the vague claim that box jellyfish are the “deadliest creatures in the sea”.
The Lion’s Mane is known as one of the largest jellyfish species in the world, which also makes them one of the most venomous. These jellies prefer cooler waters.
How/Why Do Jellyfish Sting?
The reason why jellyfish have the ability to sting is to stun their prey before eating it, or to act as a defense mechanism against a potential predator.
Few animals can consume jellyfish, such as sea turtles, who primarily eat small jellyfish as their stings are only strong enough to kill small fish.
Jellyfish have tentacles with tiny barbs that are filled with venom. Once touched, the barbs will exude the venom immediately, thus “stinging” the individual.
The most common way for humans to be stung is by holding or stepping on a jellyfish, or unknowingly brushing against one in the ocean.
Unlike bumblebees, a jellyfish won’t die after it has stung someone. Even once a jellyfish has died, their barbs will still contain the painful venom, which is why you shouldn’t touch a dead jellyfish.
How To Cure A Jellyfish Sting
The key to curing a jellyfish sting is prevention. If you’re at the beach, make sure to check out for lifeguard signs that will indicate whether there are jellyfish by the shore on that day.
This is usually in the form of a purple lifeguard flag, but you can always ask the lifeguards, too. Of course, if you have already accidentally been stung by a jellyfish, this information is useless to you.
Clear The Area
You will know if you’ve been stung by a jellyfish from the stinging-like pain that will feel like an intense rash. The first thing you should do is to immediately leave the water.
This is because salt water is said to aggravate the sting, so you’ll want to get clean and dry before you try any other treatments. You also don’t want to come across another jellyfish in the water!
Try to remove any tentacles from your body if they are still wrapped around you. It’s best to use tweezers if you have some around, otherwise get inventive and use some sticks. Don’t touch them with your fingers!
Then, rinse the area that has been stung with some clean, fresh water. This won’t clean the venom from your skin, as the moment the barbs touch your body, the venom will make its way continuously into your skin.
Instead, this will wash away the salt water that could aggravate the pain. Allow the area to air dry and don’t rub it with a towel, as this will aggravate the barbs and the venom.
Alternatively, if you have access to it, rinse off the stung area with a weak acid (vinegar is the most common use for this). Weak acid is said to prevent the venom from continuously releasing into your body, which can shorten the pain time.
Unfortunately, once a jellyfish stings you, there isn’t a cure that will stop it from hurting immediately.
As their venom will continuously release into your skin, it might feel like the jellyfish is still stinging you over and over. This will only hurt more as you touch or move the area, so it’s best to try and keep the area still and unprovoked.
To provide some relief to the swollen area, apply aloe vera. This is one of the best natural remedies for sunburn, and the same goes for jellyfish stings!
Some jellyfish stings won’t have left any barb remains in your body, but if you’ve been particularly unlucky, then you will have to remove the barbs. This is because the barbs will contain more venom, which will only make the pain worse.
Remove The Barbs
The best way to remove the barbs is to be gentle and make slow movements. Use a pair of tweezers to carefully pluck the barbs out of your skin. Don’t try to remove the barbs by brushing or wiping a towel against your skin, because this will only aggravate the venom.
Once the barbs have been removed, you will need to take a hot shower. It will be painful, but a hot shower is far more effective than a regular warm shower when it comes to lessening the pain of a jellyfish sting.
Interestingly, while ice packs might provide immediate relief, research has shown that hot water is more effective for long-term relief from a jellyfish sting. Likewise, if you have struggled to remove a couple of the barbs, put the stung area in a bath of hot water and this might help to remove them.
We suggest keeping the stung area in a bath or shower of hot water for 20-45 minutes at a temperature of 110-113 °F.
In some rare and unfortunate cases, jellyfish stings can cause serious harm to the individual.
Most people are stung on their legs, arm, or torso, but when it comes to stings in more intimate places, you might need to do a bit more than pluck and clean the area.
For example, if you have been stung near your eye, it is not advised to use the hot water technique as this can be damaging to the delicate skin.
You will need to seek professional help from a doctor immediately, who will have the medical equipment to flush your eye out and provide proper treatment. Likewise, if you have been stung on or around your genitals, this will require professional help.
Some serious stings can lead to shock, passing out, difficulty breathing, seizures, vomiting, extreme swelling, and potentially even unconsciousness. In the event of this happening, you must seek the help of a lifeguard on duty.
They will be able to assess the situation better than anyone, and they will have the means to call an ambulance or perform CPR if necessary.
Debunking Myths About Jellyfish Stings
Truth is, nothing can cure a jellyfish sting better than time itself. This is why there are an abundance of common misconceptions about how to cure a jellyfish sting, but not many have been proven successful by scientists.
Here are some of the most common myths about jellyfish stings.
Are You Supposed To Pee On A Jellyfish Sting?
Ah, the age-old debate. Countless viral videos, articles, and rumors have circulated for years to suggest that the best way to cure a jellyfish sting is to pee on it.
Unfortunately, urine does nothing to help a jellyfish sting. It’s quite fortunate, actually, because it means you don’t have to worry about peeing on yourself.
There is no evidence to prove that peeing on a jellyfish sting is successful in reducing the pain. If anything, urine probably aggravates and worsens it. This is just a myth, so please don’t try this!
Will A Meat Tenderizer Help The Pain Of A Jellyfish Sting?
Interestingly, if you have access to a meat tenderizer, this might actually help reduce the pain of a jellyfish sting! This is a fairly modern myth, but it’s a true one.
Jellyfish venom is protein-based, which means that the papain enzyme found in meat tenderizers can break down the proteins found in the venom, thus relieving some pain!
It’s important to remember that this should be a last resort method after trying to remove the barbs with tweezers first. Using a meat tenderizer before doing this could push the barbs further into the skin.
Will I Die If I’m Stung By A Jellyfish?
If you’ve been stung by a jellyfish, the odds are in your favor and you will not die. In fact, most jellyfish stings don’t even warrant a hospital visit.
Of course, if the sting has proven to become serious and detrimental to your health, then you should seek professional help from a lifeguard, doctor, or ambulance. However, in most cases, the jellyfish sting will subside in pain over time.
So, there you have it! There’s not really a surefire cure to a jellyfish sting, but there are some remedies that can help the pain and swelling. The best cure for a jellyfish sting, unfortunately, is simply time itself.