What Is the Best Treatment for a Jellyfish Sting?

Reviewed on 2/25/2021

What is the best treatment for a jellyfish sting?

Jellyfish are the most common creatures found in seawater around the world. Jellyfish tentacles have stinging cells called nematocysts that secrete a poisonous substance (venom). The best treatment for jellyfish stings includes rinsing the area with water or vinegar, removing the tentacles, soaking the affected area in hot water, taking medications to ease itching and pain and seeking medical attention, if necessary.
Jellyfish are the most common creatures found in seawater around the world. Jellyfish tentacles have stinging cells called nematocysts that secrete a poisonous substance (venom). The best treatment for jellyfish stings includes rinsing the area with water or vinegar, removing the tentacles, soaking the affected area in hot water, taking medications to ease itching and pain and seeking medical attention, if necessary.

The rescuer should remove the victim from the water and assess their breathing and circulation (arterial pulse in the affected part) and provide basic life support measures as needed.

Most jellyfish stings get better with home treatment. Severe side effects require emergency medical attention. Ideally, treating jellyfish stings would involve two things

  1. Deactivating the venom
  2. Removing the tentacles

Unfortunately, there’s no single substance that counteracts every type of jellyfish sting. For example, vinegar helps with some jellyfish stings but makes others worse.

If you are stung by a jellyfish and know that it isn’t a deadly one, then you should try these methods.

  • If you are by the beach and stung by a jellyfish, you should rinse the area with plenty of seawater. This avoids the release of toxins in the surrounding area. Avoid ammonia or alcohol unless you know the type of jellyfish and best treatment for that particular type.
  • People with jellyfish stings in the Indo-Pacific regions have applied vinegar and had good outcomes.
  • After rinsing the stung area, you should manually remove any remaining tentacles with tweezers, if possible.
  • Avoid applying shaving cream or a paste of baking soda and water or shaving the area with a razor.
  • You can also soak the affected skin in hot water (109.4 to 113°F) for 20 to 45 minutes. Be sure not to use scalding hot water.

Dilute vinegar is the best first aid for box jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war stings and ice is the best for the rest.

You must avoid these things after getting stung by a jellyfish

  • Scraping out stingers
  • Rinsing with human urine
  • Rinsing with fresh water
  • Applying meat tenderizer
  • Applying alcohol, ethanol or ammonia
  • Rubbing with a towel
  • Applying pressure bandages

You should call the doctor if you

Doctors might prescribe the following over-the-counter (OTC) medications to ease symptoms of a jellyfish sting.

What are jellyfish stings?

Jellyfish are the most common creatures found in seawater around the world. They have soft, bell-shaped bodies with lengthy tentacles.

Jellyfish tentacles have stinging cells called nematocysts that secrete a poisonous substance (venom). Jellyfish use this venom for their protection. Jellyfish stings may vary greatly in severity. Most of the stings result in

  • Immediate pain
  • Red, irritated marks on the skin
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Throbbing pain that radiates up the leg or arm

Some jellyfish stings may cause whole body illness. In rare cases, jellyfish stings may cause life-threatening reactions.

The most common types of jellyfish includes

  • Sea wasps (box jellyfish)
  • Portuguese man-of-war
  • Hydroids
  • Sea nettle
  • Anemones
  • Fire coral
  • Irukandji jellyfish

The most deadly types of jellyfish are found in Indo-Pacific and Australian waters. Some of these include

  • Sea wasp
  • Irukandji jellyfish
  • Portuguese man-of-war

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References
Medscape Medical Reference

National Capitol Poison Center


Mayo Clinic


Western Journal of Medicine


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