How to treat a jellyfish sting

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Playing and swimming in the sea is a great joy but a jellyfish sting can spoil the fun.  Jellyfish stings in Ireland are not usually life threatening and just require basic first aid and simple pain relief. Myths – don’t rinse sting site with fresh water, vinegar, alcohol or urine.

All jellyfish possess ‘stingers’ on their tentacles and brushing against the tentacles can cause the release of these stingers which contain venom. Whether the stingers pierce the skin depends on whether they are sharp and long enough depending on the type of jellyfish. The Lion’s Mane and Portuguese Man O’War have stinging cells which are much sharper and can pierce skin easily resulting in a painful sting. Check out the Jellyfish ID Card to learn more about jellyfish.

What to do if you have been stung

1) If helping someone else make sure you don’t get stung yourself.

2) Seek advice from lifeguards if they are on duty.

3) Try to carefully remove any attached tentacles by flushing the sting area with sea water and removing tentacles with gloved hands, clean stick, tweezers, towel  or scraping gently with the edge of a credit card.

4) Do not rub the affected area as this may result in further venom release.

5) Rinse the affected area copiously with sea-water (do not rinse with fresh water, vinegar, alcohol or urine).

6) Apply a ‘dry cold pack’ to the area (i.e. place a cold pack or ice inside a plastic bag and then wrap this package in a t-shirt or other piece of cloth).

7) Mild symptoms of pain and swelling can be treated with simple painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, while mild itching at the sting site may respond to anti-histamine creams.

8) Use HOT WATER for Portuguese Man o’ War stings at approximately 45° Celsius for 20 minutes.

9) Keep any puncture wounds clean and dry to avoid them getting infected and don’t put on a tight bandage.

Seek medical attention if there is anything other than minor discomfort. If the patient is suffering from swelling, breathing difficulties, palpitation or chest tightness then transfer to the nearest emergency department urgently.

More about jellyfish stings on HSE and WSI websites.

EPA Bathing Water Team