We have all seen jellyfish on the beach. They look pretty ugly and you want to stay away from them, even more in the water, because we all want to avoid their famous stings. How an animal can be so majestic in the water (I have admired them at the aquarium of the Pacific many times) and so not appealing when out of the water is puzzling to me. Jellyfish are gelatinous and have many tentacles. Those filament-like tentacles are covered with little sacs (nematocysts) that contain venom. They use their venom to paralyze their prey. There are hundreds of different types of those animals and they all are non aggressive. However, since they are sometimes floating near the surface of the water or on the beach, humans can accidentally get in contact with their tentacles and get ”stung”. This results in a very brutal and painful sensation that can last several hours. Jellyfish stings usually are mild, except those caused by species in the South Pacific, such as the box jellyfish or Portuguese man-of-war that can be life-threatening. There can also be some severe cases (in very young children or elderly, if the area involved in the sting is very large, if there is an anaphylactic reaction and so on) that definitely require immediate medical help .
Here, I am only talking about the most common cases of mild envenomation with local skin contact reactions. Intense pain occurs immediately after exposure and is accompanied by edema and redness.
- When you realized you have been stung, get out of the water as quickly as possible in order to avoid risks of drowning.
- do not apply cold water as it would contribute to additional release of venom still inside the nematocysts
- acetic acid in vinegar limits the release of venom but does not relieve the pain due to venom that has already been released. It is best to apply a good amount of white vinegar (with a soaked towel) before and after the removal of tentacles still present on the skin (do not do it with bare hands. Use a towel or even a credit card to ”shave” the tentacles without touching them). If you do not have vinegar available (why would you?) you can try slices of tomato since it is also acidic (and you might have brought some with you at the beach as a snack).
- Heat seems to help ease the pain since the venom is thermolabile, meaning heat destroys it.
- homeopathic medicine: Urtica urens 6C. Take 5 pellets sublingually as soon as possible, then every 10 minutes for an hour and every 2 hours after that. Urtica urens is therefore a medicine you should carry in your bag when going to the beach.