Jellyfish are some of the most beautiful of all the creatures, that inhabit the seas around us. Some prefer warm waters, while others prefer cold. Jellyfish provide food for sea dwellers as well as for man. Unfortunately, their stinging tentacles can present a problem to waders, swimmers, snorkelers and divers. Care should always be taken around areas where jellyfish are plentiful. This includes the beaches, where jellyfish bodies may be washed up on shore.
Long tentacles trail behind the body of the jellyfish. On smaller jellyfish, these tentacles are threadlike and may be under one inch long, whereas larger jellyfish may trail tentacles over one hundred feet in length. These tentacles are used for defense as well as to capture and hold prey. If a wader or swimmer accidentally brushes against these tentacles, they release tiny microscopic barbs, bearing venom. When these barbs pierce human skin, the venom can cause a variety of reactions. In severe cases, jellyfish stings can cause death.
Once the tiny barbs scratch the skin, there is an immediate reaction. The victim will feel a throbbing, burning pain and the area will become reddened. The pain may radiate away from the site, and there may also be a tingling sensation and varying degrees of numbness. More sensitive victims may get a rash, or the whole area, of contact, may blister. As with many other medical reactions, the very young, and the elderly are most likely to have the severest. The severity of the reaction can also depend on the type of jelly fish involved and how much skin is stung. Reactions may also vary as some individuals are more sensitive than others to the venom excreted.
The deadliest, and most complex of the jellyfish is the box jellyfish, named because of its shape. Those stung by box jellies need immediate medical attention. Because the pain is extremely intense and because the venom attacks the heart and nervous system as well as the skin, victims may go into shock, and die or drown, before help can arrive. Box jellyfish move in large groups and are primarily found in the warmer waters north of Australia.
Fortunately most jellyfish stings can be treated at home. The pain and discoloration will lessen over the next week or ten days and should disappear completely in about two weeks. If the victim of jellyfish stings is a child, frail, or elderly or if the area of stings is extensive, is is wise to always seek medical attention. It is interesting to note that the marks the jellyfish leaves on the skin, are often the exact imprint of the jellyfish tentacles.
If the victim is in good health and the stings appear to be minor, the best treatment is to first wash off any tentacle material, using hot water – as hot as the patient can tolerate. Salt water can be used in an emergency, but it not as effective as hot. If any tentacle material remains, remove it by using tweezers. Make sure to wear gloves when doing this. It is important that the area is tentacle-free, or the stinging will continue. For pain and itching use Ibuprofen, or whatever you physician of pharmacist advise.
Some suggest that vinegar, a baking soda solution, and even urine, will help relive the pain of a jellyfish sting. It is worth trying anything, if your options are limited, but the best treatment is still considered to be an extended soaking – twenty minutes at a time – in tolerably hot water.
Serious jellyfish stings, especially from the more toxic jellyfish, like the box jellyfish, are another matter, and the symptoms are potentially more severe. They may include extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, dizziness, loss of consciousness, problems with breathing, and muscle weakness. These symptoms may be delayed, so in the case of a box jellyfish sting, it is essential to get immediate medical attention, irregardless of the victims age or physical condition.
For serious jellyfish stings, and always for box jellyfish stings, more extreme treatments are necessary. These may include anti-venoms, CPR, and in extreme cases, life support. The extreme pain may call for injected pain-relievers. Zinc injections are the latest in jellyfish sting treatments.
If you are stung by a jellyfish and have any concerns, it is wise to see a physician immediately.