Jellyfish Stings

Jellyfish look harmless enough, but if they sting you, you can suffer horrible pain and swelling. The pain can last from a few minutes to several hours. Stings on the face and neck are usually more severe than those elsewhere on your body. Sometimes, you can suffer a generalized reaction characterized by weakness, nausea, headache, diarrhea, hives, generalized itching or fever. Most of the time, doctors treat these symptoms with antihistamines or antibiotics. However, if your reaction is severe and you are very sick, cortisone-type drugs are the only effective medications to help you.

Immediate treatment to help alleviate pain is to apply hot water at 45 degrees C (113 F) to the area. The venom is inactivated by heat. Ice, vinegar, aluminium sulfate appear to be far less effective in controlling pain. If hot water is unavailable, rub the area with sand immediately and hold it in ocean water. Never wash the area in fresh or tap water because water with low levels of salt can cause the stinging cells to fire off more venom and cause even more pain. No over-the-counter medications are approved for relieving the pain of jellyfish stings. On rare occasions, a jellyfish sting can make a person pass out. So if the person feels the least bit faint, check with a doctor. Fortunately the vast majority of jelly fish stings cause only pain and swelling.

1) Edmonds CE. Dangerous marine animals of the Indo-Pacific region. Newport: Wedneil, 1975: 79-106. 2) Taylor G. Toxic fish spine injury: lessons from 11 years experience. SPUMS J 2000; 30: 7-8. 3) Taylor G. Are some jellyfish toxins heat labile? SPUMS J 2000; 30: 74-75. 4) Loten C, Stokes B, Worsley D, et al. A randomised controlled trial of hot water (45?C) immersion versus ice packs for pain relief in bluebottle stings. Med J Aust 2006; 184: 329-333.

Updated 3/17/10

Get our newsletter