For more than 500 million years, jellyfish have been out there in our waters. Although they look like a primitive creatures, the evolutionary adaptations they have developed are amazing and effective, yet simple. Some species are tiny, less than a centimeter in diameter, and some are huge with tentacles that can reach up to 40 meters. No matter how small or big their tentacles are, they all sting! Luckily, most of them do not produce aggressive toxins that can do severe harm to humans. Usually the extent of damage is stinging, burning or itching, but that’s all. Unfortunately, there are species that can kill a human in under 3 minutes. Depending on the time of the year, jellyfish stings are a risk that people swimming or diving in seawaters must face.
What are the symptoms of a jellyfish sting?
Depending on the reaction to the sting, the symptoms may be localized or systemic. Localized symptoms occur only in the area of the contact between tentacles and skin. Systemic response is characterized by the reaction of the whole body and symptoms include a wide range of conditions that involve all body systems (nervous, cardiovascular, urinary system, etc.)
Localized reaction: Most of the species produce toxins that trigger only a local skin reaction. Usually, the area of the sting is swollen, mildly painful, with red marks. Severity of the symptoms depends on the species.
A list of localized reactions to the jellyfish sting includes:
- Burning or tingling sensation
- Skin marks that look like tentacles (tentacle print on the skin)- the color of the marks is usually red, although they may appear as brown, pale or pink patches.
- Throbbing pain that propagates around the area of the sting
Systemic reaction: If systemic body response occurs, the intervention of health professionals is needed. As soon as you notice health problems that occurred after the jellyfish sting go beyond the local skin reaction, you should seek for a medical help immediately! Have in mind that not all of these may be present simultaneously and maybe not immediately after the sting. Problems may occur hours after the sting as well.
A list of systemic reactions to the jellyfish sting includes:
- Problems maintaining body balance
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Painful joints
- Loss of consciousness
- Breathing difficulties
- Arrhythmia (Palpitations, tachycardia, bradycardia)
- Chest pain
- Blood pressure changes (low or high blood pressure)
How to treat jellyfish stings on your own:
As mentioned above, stings should be treated only if they are mild and if presented without systemic reaction.
Immediate treatment steps include:
1. Exit the water.
2. If the jellyfish is still attached to your body, remove it carefully. (Keep in mind that you could get more stings if you touch the tentacles, so use a towel or a plastic bag as a glove.)
3. Wash the area with seawater to remove the stings.
*4. Deactivation of stings can be achieved with vinegar or baking soda solution. Rinse the affected area with solution for 30-40 seconds.
*5. Soak the affected area in hot water for at least 20 minutes (water should be hot but not cause burns). If the hot water is not available, you can use cold packs.
*Steps 4 and 5 apply to the Indo-Pacific area. If you got stung in some other area of the world, skip step 4 and 5. Instead, rinse the affected area of the skin with water for a few minutes.
After immediate treatment follow these recommendations:
- Itching and swelling can be relieved with hydrocortisone cream and oral antihistamines.
- If needed, use over the counter pain killers.
- Keep the affected area clean. At least 3 times a day, wash it with mild soap, keep it away from salty water.
- Apply antibiotic ointment if there are signs of inflammation in the affected area (redness, tenderness, pulsating pain, warm skin).
If any of the systemic body response signs show up, seek help from a health professional.
When to seek help from a medical professional:
- Medical help is needed in cases of systemic body response.
- Severe allergic reaction should be treated as soon as possible by health professionals!
- If the surface of the affected area is bigger than ½ of the leg or arm surface.
- If you are not sure whether or not the reaction is severe, call 911 and they will provide you the guidance and information. Local health professionals know exactly what species of jellyfish live in the nearby waters and can estimate how serious is the reaction to the sting simply by talking to you on the phone.
- The box jellyfish sting is an emergency situation! Ask for a medical help immediately!!! Most of dangerous species are restricted to the tropical Indo-Pacific region, but they can be found in other parts of the world as well.
Before going to an exotic place for a vacation, inform yourself about dangerous animals that live there. Learn what they look like, so you can recognize them in case an encounter happens. It can also be helpful to seek out local people to provide you with quality information about dangerous species that live on both land and sea.