Jellyfish Stings

1 What are Jellyfish Stings?

Jellyfish stings are one of the major challenges for the swimmers, waders, and sea divers. Jellyfish is a free-swimming animal which can be found in every ocean.

They have venomous stingers at the ends of their tentacles, which help them in defending a predator or catching a prey.

When someone comes in contact with their tentacles, jellyfish release their venom through stingers. Often these stings are harmless but in very rare and severe cases, they could be life threatening.

2 Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of jellyfish stings are described below. These symptoms could be seen immediately after stinging or could appear after several hours:

  • Pain and burning or prickling sensation at the site of sting
  • Appearance of red, blue or purplish cracks
  • Itching and swelling at the site of sting
  • In severe cases, multiple body systems can be affected.
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint problems
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Problem in breathing and
  • Heart problems.

The severity of the problem may vary from person to person depending on the type and size of the jellyfish, age and health status of the patient, time of exposure and the size of the affected area.

The patient seeks an emergency treatment, if a larger area is affected or if severe allergic reactions are present.

3 Causes

Stung by a jellyfish is the main cause of jellyfish stings.

The jellyfish have small stinging cells at the ends of the tentacles. These stinging cells having venomous bulbs are attached to a coiled tube.

When a person comes in contact to a tentacle, the stringers are triggered to release venom inside the skin tissue of the prey through its sharp-tipped tube. Many species of jellyfish are harmless to humans whereas some can cause severe effects with pain.

Most common types of jellyfish which cause serious problems to human include:

  • Box jellyfish: They are also known as sea wasps as their stings cause intense pain and can result in severe life-threatening reactions. The most dangerous species of box jellyfish are found in warm waters of the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
  • Portuguese man-of-war: This type of jellyfish is more prevalent in warmer seas. They have a blue or purplish gas bubble which helps them to continue floating on the surface of the sea. Thus, they are also known as bluebottle jellyfish.
  • Sea nettle: They are common in both warm and cool sea waters which live along the northeast coast of United States and are abundant in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Lion’s mane jellyfish: With a diameter of more than 3 feet, these are the world’s largest jellyfish. They are mostly found in cooler waters and northern regions of the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Jellyfish stings could be diagnosed by careful examination of the affected area and by verifying other symptoms.

5 Treatment

Most jellyfish stings can be treated by rinsing the area with salt water, applying vinegar or a baking soda paste, and taking a pain reliever.

In severe life-threatening reactions, the patient may seek medical emergency. The treatment of these severe cases involves cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) life support for stabilizing breathing, blood pressure and heart rate followed by administration of antivenom and pain reliever.

Other associated problems like rashes or delayed skin hypersensitivity reaction can be treated with oral antihistamines and corticosteroids. If the site of the sting is on or near the eye, one must immediately take pain killers, should flush the eyes carefully and must consult an eye specialist as soon as possible.

6 Prevention

Following measures could be taken to prevent jellyfish stings:

  • Wear protective clothing or wetsuits/skin-suits/ stinger suits while swimming or diving in the waters with the probability of the presence of jellyfish.
  • Get information about the condition before getting inside the water.
  • Avoid getting inside water when the jellyfish count is high.
  • Use protective lotions.
  • If by chance you are stung by the jellyfish, get out of the water without splashing much so as to prevent the release of more venom.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic medicine Urtica urens could be taken sublingually for the treatment of jellyfish stings.

Get out of the waters as soon as you realize that you been stung by a jellyfish. Then apply vinegar or tomato slices to limit the release of venom and avoid using cold water.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

If you have been stung by a jellyfish following tips may help you to cope with jellyfish stings:

  • Firstly remove the stringers or any piece of tentacles on the skin and then rinse with seawater.
  • Avoid getting sand on the affected area.
  • Avoid rubbing the affected area
  • Avoid rinsing with fresh water
  • Rinse with vinegar or apply baking soda paste
  • Take a hot shower or apply ice packs
  • To get relief from itching and discomfort apply calamine lotion or lidocaine
  • Avoid using unapproved remedies like using human urine or solvents like ethanol, etc.
  • Consult a doctor in case of severe reactions.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with jellyfish stings.

The risk of jellyfish stings increases:

  • While swimming in downwind shores
  • Getting into waters when there is high number of jellyfish
  • Swimming or diving without protective suits
  • Sunbathing or playing at beaches where jellyfish washed off

Complications associated with jellyfish stings include delayed hypersensitivity reaction which may cause blisters, skin irritation or rashes, rare but severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, and rare chances of skin discoloration or scarring.