Stung by a Jellyfish? Here’s What You Need to Know

‘Tis the Season for Jellyfish

“Summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime!” The 1958 hit by The Jamies is a rousing anthem exclaiming the joy of all things summer. Summer lovers embrace every single minute of enjoying the sun, sports, outdoor living, and, especially, long sunny days at the beach. Along with sunscreen, staying hydrated, and good music, watching out for jellyfish in the water is an essential part of enjoyable summer living.

What are Jellyfish?

If you’ve never seen them, jellyfish look a little bit like a gelatinous umbrella with tentacles; they’re somewhat prehistoric looking. Lovely to watch, jellyfish appear to float and/or swim languidly in the water. There are two kinds of jellyfish, although only one is considered a “real” jellyfish. That type, scyphozoa, lives in saltwater. The other type of jellyfish, hydrozoa, lives in freshwater, although some marine scientists argue that they are not real jellyfish.

What Happens During a Jellyfish Sting?

Jellyfish are generally colorful and look pretty harmless, but when it is threatened in some way, its tentacles adhere to the threat (perhaps a leg or foot). The tentacles, in which there are numerous stingers, then shoot venom into the area which they are adhered to, causing what’s commonly known as a jellyfish sting. The resulting sting is usually mild unless you are stung by a box jellyfish. A box jellyfish, whose umbrella is box-shaped, emits poisonous venom and requires immediate medical treatment.

Symptoms of a Jellyfish Sting

Getting stung by a jellyfish is certainly unpleasant. Typical symptoms are:

  • A feeling of burning or stinging
  • A throbbing feeling that may radiate from the affected area
  • Numbness
  • Itching
  • A discolored area on the skin where the sting occurred

Treating a Jellyfish Sting

In most cases, jellyfish stings are not serious. To provide first aid for a jellyfish sting, do the following:

  • Leave the water
  • Immediately rinse the area with salt, not fresh, water
  • Remove the stingers by scraping them off with a firm object such as a credit card or shell
  • Soak the area in water that is as hot as tolerated without burning for 20 minutes to inactivate the venom and relieve pain
  • Apply a mild topical ointment like hydrocortisone if needed
  • Use ice for swelling

Depending on your age, overall health, the size of the area affected by the sting, and the type of jellyfish that stung you, you may experience more serious symptoms. These may be:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing

Call 9-1-1 and seek immediate medical attention for any of those symptoms because they can be indicators of an anaphylactic, or very severe, allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis requires care at a local emergency room because of its level of seriousness.

There is also a slight possibility that the area affected by the sting may become infected. If the area remains red, develops a rash, or becomes very sore, you may need an antibiotic so, please, see a medical professional.

Summertime Fun Time

Whether you’re taking a day trip or a longer vacation, beach summer fun is something to look forward to! A jellyfish sting shouldn’t derail your summer plans, but, if you need help treating one, please contact The Derm NP for assistance. We’re here to help with this and any other dermatology issue – and right from the comfort of your own space!

Disclaimer: The information contained here was not written by a medical doctor and is intended for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for medical advice.

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