Jellyfish are free-swimming, non-aggressive, gelatinous marine animals surrounded by tentacles. These tentacles are covered with sacs (nematocysts) that are filled with poison (venom) that can cause a painful to sometimes life-threatening sting. The marine animals included in the "family" are jellyfish, box jellyfish (sea wasps), Portuguese man-of-war, hydroids, anemones, and fire coral. Jellyfish are found throughout the world. But, the most deadly are found in the Indo-Pacific and Australian waters.
Jellyfish are usually found near the surface of the water during times of diminished light, floating in the water column, or after washing up on the beach. Jellyfish stings are generally accidental - from swimming or wading into a jellyfish or carelessly handling them.
Some types of jellyfish have reproductive jelly gatherings 8 to 10 days after a full moon, thus there is an increase in the number of jellyfish found at that time.
Jellyfish Sting Symptoms
Symptoms include an intense, stinging pain, itching, rash, and raised welts. The progressive effects of a jellyfish sting may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lymph node swelling, abdominal pain, numbness/tingling, and muscle spasms. Severe reactions can cause difficulty breathing, coma, and death. A sting from a box jellyfish or other venomous types of jellyfish can cause death in minutes.
Jellyfish Stings Treatment
If you are stung by a box jellyfish, seek medical help immediately. While you are waiting for medical help, flood the area with vinegar until medical help is available and keep as still as possible. If you are not close to medical care, soak the area and tentacles for 10 minutes or more, before attempting to remove them. If the sting is on the arms or legs, you can place a pressure dressing (like an ACE wrap used for a sprained ankle) around the sting. Be careful that you do not stop blood flow - the fingers and toes should always stay pink. This will help to slow down the spread of the toxin.
For other jellyfish stings, soak or rinse the area in vinegar (acetic acid) for 15-30 minutes to stop the nematocysts from releasing their toxins. If you do not have vinegar available, rinse in sea water,70% isopropyl alcohol, or Safe Sea Jellyfish After Sting® pain relief gel. Do not use fresh water. Fresh water will cause the nematocysts to continue to release their toxin. For the same reason, do not rub the area, apply ice or hot water.
Remove tentacles with a stick or a pair of tweezers. Wear gloves if you have them available.
Apply shaving cream or a paste of baking soda to the area. Shave the area with a razor or credit card to remove any adherent nematocysts. Then reapply vinegar or alcohol. The shaving cream or paste prevents nematocysts that have not been activated from releasing their toxin during removal with the razor.
Eye stings should be rinsed with a commercial saline solution like Artifical Tears; dab the skin around the eyes with a towel that has been soaked in vinegar. Do not place vinegar directly in the eyes.
Mouth stings should be treated with 1/4 strength vinegar. Mix ¼ cup of vinegar with ¾ cup of water. Gargle and spit out the solution. Do not drink or swallow the solution.
For pain, take acetaminophen (Tylenol) 325 mg 1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours for pain; or Ibuprofen (Motrin) or Aleve every 8 hours for pain.
CPR may be necessary for all stings if the person stops breathing and/or no longer has a pulse.
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