Jellyfish are a common entity in this area. Recently there have been reports of Portugese man o’war (which are technically not Jellyfish) in waters near here. On Nextdoor recently a Seabrook Island resident posted a picture of one washed up on the north beach of Seabrook Island. Jellyfish stings are definitely a possibility. In Florida recently there were over 800 stings treated in a 3 day period!
As a healthcare provider new to the area, I decided to learn more about how to care for these types of injuries. If you do an internet search for how to treat a jellyfish sting you will get a variety of answers – from rinsing in salt water or vinegar, to scraping the tentacles, to applying shaving cream, urine, meat tenderizer or baking soda.
Recent studies indicate some of the popular recommendations for first aid of jellyfish stings (and portugese man o’war) may not be the best treatment and may actually cause more harm than help. First aid for stings is aimed at reducing the amount of venom that is absorbed by the body. The venom is what causes the most problems in the body.
Follow these 3 steps to reduce the amount of venom that is released into the skin
- Rinse the area of the sting with vinegar for at least 30 seconds or Sting No More®
- Remove any remaining pieces of the stinger with tweezers
- Apply heat either by hot water immersion (soak) or application of a hot pack for 20-45 minutes
NOTE TO SELF – Put vinegar in the beach bag!
What NOT to do (and why)
- dilute vinegar with water or salt water – The researchers found diluted vinegar was not as effective in reducing the release of the venom.
- rinse with salt or fresh water – Salt water allowed the venom to be spread over a larger area, increasing the area exposed to the venom
- scrape with a credit card or plastic object – this was thought to dislodge any remaining pieces of the tentacles, but actually increased the release of venom into the skin.
- apply ice – causes more damage to the area and its use has been associated with the deaths that have occurred with stings.
- Apply lemon juice, urine, shaving cream, meat tenderizer, alcohol, ammonia or baking soda – they were not found to be effective and may make it worse.
- Rub the area with towel
- Apply pressure bandage
Treatment after initial first aid
Not all stings require medical care. For some pain medicine like ibuprofen or Tylenol may be effective. For others the pain alone may require medical care for stronger pain medication. Elevation of extremity will help reduce swelling. Some people have allergic reactions to the venom. Some people can have a secondary infection at the area. Occasionally people have very serve reactions that require CPR and emergency medical care. If the sting occurs on or near the eye it requires immediate attention. If you experience any chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, signs of infection, hives, or significant itching, swelling, pain consider seeking medical care.
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