LET’S TALK ABOUT HOW TO TREAT STINGS. My front page post, “Nematocysts and the Science of Sting,” discusses the way jellyfish, fire coral and other cnidarians bring about their painful stings.
On dive boats, in dive shops and, of course, on the internet there are lots of theories about how to treat stings by cnidarians – most of it more urban legend than factual. Here are some facts, culled from medical resources.
THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T DO IF YOU’RE STUNG
First of all, don’t rub, scrape or apply pressure to the site. Those actions just stimulate the discharge of more venom.
Most of the legendary remedies out there on how to treat stings – rinsing with seawater, fresh water, human urine, alcohol or ammonia, or treating with meat tenderizer or shaving cream – are ineffective and may do harm.
HOW TO TREAT STINGS, REALLY
The Mayo Clinic recommends rinsing the area with vinegar, carefully plucking out any visible tentacles with tweezer, if possible, and soaking the skin in hot water.
In an article in The Guardian, a physician who is a jellyfish expert explained that hot water, as in a long, hot shower, may provide relieve symptoms but isn’t an antidote for the venom. In fact, applying heat dilates the capillaries and facilitates the spread of the venom.
REPEAT: VINEGAR. ALSO, A NEW SPRAY
In a study published in the journal Toxins, researchers found that “commercially available vinegars, as well as the recently developed Sting No More® Spray, were the most effective rinse solutions, as they irreversibly inhibited cnidae discharge.” They noted that even slight dilution of vinegar reduced its protective effects.
The best treatment is prevention – covering up with a rash guard shirt, suit or cap that protects otherwise exposed skin from contact with the big and small things that go sting in the night. Or day.
PRINCIPAL SOURCES: “Assessing the Efficacy of First-Aid Measures in Physaliasp. Envenomation, Using Solution- and Blood Agarose-Based Models,” Toxins; “Jellyfish Stings, diagnosis and Treatment,” Mayo Clinic; “What is the best antidote for a jellyfish sting? (Clue: it’s not urine,” The Guardian.