Health & WellnessLifestyles

The beach myth that can make a jellyfish sting hurt worse

Despite what people might have heard, it’s a myth that peeing on a jellyfish sting does anything to ease the pain. Not only are there no studies to support this idea, but urine may actually worsen the sting, according to Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, officials. They say the truth is that peeing on a jellyfish sting can actually cause stinging cells to release even more venom.

Jellyfish are umbrella-shaped gelatinous blobs with long, trailing tentacles. The tentacles on jellyfish have stinging cells called nematocysts that contain venom. Coming into contact with a jellyfish, be it in the water or on a beach, results in the activation of the stingers and the release of venom.

So, if you get stung, it hurts – and it hurts a lot.

Somewhere along the way, a myth erupted that said peeing on a sting could neutralize the venom and make the intense pain go away. The logic is based upon ammonia and other compounds found in urine. The truth, medical officials say, is that peeing on a jellyfish sting can actually cause stinging cells to release even more venom.

“Jellyfish stings are painful enough without amplifying the symptoms,” said Dr. Thomas Waters, emergency medicine physician, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio. “You might mean well by peeing on a sting, but putting the wrong substance on it can really make things worse.”

Plus, they say, realistically, nobody wants to be peed on.

What you should do to treat a jellyfish sting is to keep your pants on — literally and figuratively, they say. The three-step jellyfish treatment process that should follow includes removing the jellyfish tentacles, looking for barbs, and treatment of the pain.

Remove jellyfish tentacles

Use seawater to wash off the tentacles right away, but avoid any vigorous rubbing which can cause the jellyfish’s nematocysts to fire, which means the barbed part of the tentacles will release more toxin into your skin.

If stung, you are encouraged to use only seawater on the affected area while removing the barbs.

“Do not use fresh water, such as bottled water or from a faucet,” cautioned Waters. “If you do, that can cause the nematocysts to activate and worsen the sting.”

Look for barbs

If you see any barbs left in your skin, they say to use tweezers to carefully pluck them out. If you don’t have tweezers available, they say to gently scrape the area with a credit card or similarly shaped plastic object to get the barbs out of the skin.

Pain treatment

Once the tentacles are removed, vinegar or rubbing alcohol should be applied to the affected area. Hospital officials say this can help relieve the pain and release the toxin.

Immersing the affected area of your body in hot water, they say, is another option, but only after all the barbs have been removed, said Dr. Waters. He encourages placing the sting in a hot bath or under a hot shower for 20 minutes. The water temperature should be 104 degrees Fahrenheit to 113 Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer, use the hottest water temperature you can tolerate. If treating a young child, adults should always test the water temperature first.

Later, the doctor says, you can apply acetic acid (which is found in vinegar), calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to dial down the pain. An ice pack, he says, can help reduce swelling, and antihistamines can limit itching and any skin rash.

While jellyfish stings are unpleasant, most don’t require attention from a doctor, hospital officials say. And that stings typically improve within a few hours. They say that sometimes a rash with red, purple or brown splotches may linger for a few weeks and that scars are possible, too.

Cleveland Clinic officials say the seriousness of the situation also depends on the type of jellyfish a person encounters. With thousands of species of jellyfish around the world, some can deliver a fatal dose of venom, in the case of the box jellyfish, or sea wasp, found off of Australia’s northern coast.

Anyone infected by a jellyfish sting is encouraged to monitor symptoms and seek medical help if they experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, muscle cramps, skin blistering, numbness or tingling, nausea or vomiting, difficulty swallowing, worsening redness, rash or pain if a sting gets infected.

In June, The Bahamas Ministry of Health and Wellness advised of the occurrence of sea lice and jellyfish bites commonly seen during March to August.

Sea lice are the larvae of jellyfish which float on the sea surface but are barely visible to the human eye.

The health ministry says skin contact with sea lice often results in dermatitis or sea bathers’ eruption which happens because the microscopic creatures become entrapped in swimwear. The eruptions produce a prickly sensation which progresses into a bumpy red rash noticeable between four to 24 hours following exposure.

Bahamas Ministry of Health officials say beachgoers should be aware of their individual risk, especially if they have strong allergic reactions; avoid wearing T-shirts and one-piece swimsuits while swimming; and immediately after swimming, change out of swimwear. Swimwear, officials say, should be washed in detergent and placed in a dryer as reoccurrence of symptoms may present when wearing a swimsuit that was air-dried.

People who suspect that they have been affected by sea lice and are noticing other symptoms along with the rash should seek medical attention.

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