Everything You Learned About Treating Jellyfish Stings is Wrong
Don’t pee on them, for starters.
Stung by a jellyfish in Hawai‘i? Here’s what experts say you should do.
’Cause, let’s face it, there are few things worse on a trip to the beach than getting stung by a box jellyfish. Those poisonous floating tentacles always seem to come out of nowhere, and even a passing encounter can cause severe pain and scarring.
Fortunately, researchers at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa say they’ve figured out the best, most effective ways to treat jellyfish stings. And they’re not the ones you may think.
“Anyone who Googles ‘how to treat a jellyfish sting’ will encounter authoritative web articles claiming the best thing to do is rinse the area with seawater, scrape away any remaining tentacles, and then treat the sting with ice,” says Angel Yanagihara, lead author of a new paper published in the journal Toxins. “We put those methods to the test in the lab, and found they actually make stings much, much worse.”
Yanagihara, with the help of postdoctoral fellow Christie Wilcox, conducted experiments showing that some of the most common treatments don’t address the real cause of injury. “Less than 1 percent of stinging cells on a tentacle actually fire when you’re first stung,” explains Wilcox. “So anything you do that moves the tentacles or adherent stinging cell capsules around has the potential to increase the amount of venom injected into you by many-fold.”
So, next time you get stung by a box jellyfish, what should you do?
- Rinse the wound with vinegar, which prevents any remaining stinging cells from firing. (The sooner the better, of course, so pack a little bottle of vinegar into your beach bag ahead of time.)
- Pluck off any visible tentacles with tweezers.
- Apply heat to the wound—Yanagihara and Wilcox found that heat actively decreases venom activity.
- If you have it, you can treat the sting with the combination of Sting No More® Spray and Cream, a venom-inhibiting product duo developed by Yanagihara with Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense funding.
“Box jellies are incredibly dangerous animals. The more venom they inject, the more likely a victim is to suffer severe, even life-threatening symptoms,” Yanagihara says. “The increases in venom injection and activity we saw in our study from methods like scraping and applying ice could mean the difference between life and death in a serious box jelly sting.”