Those stinging things – Jellyfish

July 9, 2013 in First Aid

Hot weather, swimming, barbecues – it’s all part of the summer life in Malta. Unfortunately, so are jellyfish stings.

Question is, with all the home remedies and different theories out there, what exactly is the proper way to handle a jellyfish sting?
Read on to find out…

How do they move around?

We’ve all seen jellyfish and we all know that if the wind or current are blowing in towards the beach, there’s more of a chance that jellyfish might be lurking around waiting for the chance to sting us.  But are jellyfish actually able to move towards us and sting us?  The answer is a simple no.  Jellyfish go wherever the current takes them.  So the only way you’ll get stung is if you bump into them or if the current brings them to you.

Why do Jellyfish sting?

Jellyfish have a transparent jelly-like body (hence the name) with lots of tentacles hanging down from it.  It’s these tentacles that have “stingers” on them (or cnidoblasts).  The stingers act as both a defence mechanism and also a way to capture prey.  Once the tentacles touch against a living thing, threads inside the stingers spring out at the victim like tiny darts and release a chemical that is designed to paralyse jellyfish prey or make larger animals move away (defence).  Although this chemical can kill a very small aquatic animal, its sting is not usually fatal to humans.

What should do you do if someone gets stung?

Now on to the important part, how do you treat a jellyfish sting?

  • Rinse the area with a lot of sea water or vinegar for around 30 minutes.
  • If tentacles are still stuck to the skin, gently and carefully remove them.  If necessary, use a credit card or something similar to gently scrape at the skin surface and remove any tentacles left behind.
  • Be careful not to break the tentacles or move them onto an unaffected area of skin, as some stingers may still be active.

What should I not do?

  1. Do not rinse the area with fresh or tap water, as this may re-activate the stingers (make them sting even more).
  2. Do not rinse the area with cola, juice, urine, or anything other than sea water or vinegar.
  3. Do not use any creams, lotions, pastes, etc unless told to by a doctor.
  4. Do not rub the area.  This will just make the situation worse.

Should I go to a hospital?

Most jellyfish stings are mild and do not require medical treatment.  However, it is important to seek medical help if in doubt or if any one of the following applies to your situation:

  1. The person stung is a young child.
  2. The person shows signs of an allergic reaction (e.g. difficulty breathing, rash on the skin)
  3. The sting covers more than half an arm or leg.

Always remember:  If in doubt, get help!

Deborah Cefai
EFRU K9 / Rescuer