Jellyfish and Stingray Stings: Symptoms, First Aid, and When to Go to the ER
The sun is out, the weather is warm, and the beaches are calling out to us. And many of us will answer that call.
For most of us, we’ll enjoy our fun in the sun without issues. But it’s always important to be prepared in case the day’s festivities take a turn.
The warm weather brings more than just seasonal allergies and sunburns. Run-ins with jellyfish or stingrays are not only painful but can occasionally result in medical emergencies.
Here are tips on applying stingray and jellyfish sting first aid, and how to know when to go to the emergency room.
The First Signs of a Sting
Around 1,500-2,000 stingray injuries are reported in the United States every year. In most cases, the injury is not life-threatening, but it can be very painful.
The stinger itself is barbed and can cause a lot of soft tissue damage. Common symptoms of stingray venom include swelling, cramps, nausea, skin discoloration, and vomiting.
Jellyfish stings are far more common, no doubt helped by the fact that their populations appear to be increasing in the majority of their habitats.
The first signs of a jellyfish sting are sharp, shooting pain, tingling or numbness around the area of the sting, and the area turning red or purple. More serious stings can also cause nausea, dizziness, and vomiting.
Applying Stingray and Jellyfish First Aid
Applying first aid for stingray sting depends on the area of the wound. If it’s a flesh wound, you should remain in the ocean and attempt to remove the barb if possible. Let the saltwater clean the wound while you apply pressure to slow the bleeding.
While tending the wound, pay attention to how you’re feeling, as it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to the venom. If you notice shortness of breath, excessive sweating, an irregular heartbeat or feelings of faintness, seek medical attention immediately.
If the barb has pierced the throat, neck, abdomen, or chest, or has completely gone through part of the body, do not try to remove it. Instead, seek immediate emergency treatment.
By comparison, jellyfish stings tend to be less severe.
Treating the affected area with saltwater or a hot water rinse can help neutralize the venom and provide relief. Topical pain creams or over-the-counter painkillers can also help reduce the discomfort.
Be on the lookout for symptoms like dizziness or nausea. While most jellyfish stings don’t have long-lasting effects, serious cases can escalate quickly.
If you experience difficulty breathing, chest pains, or loss of feeling in the affected limb, go to the ER right away.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
The best way to deal with stings is to avoid them rather than have to apply ray or jellyfish sting first aid.
Stingrays would rather avoid you than sting you. Most incidents occur when they’re stepped on as they lay on the seafloor. Doing the “stingray shuffle” will give them ample warning to flee.
Most jellyfish stings happen when they wash ashore and are stepped on, so watch your step.
Unfortunately, rays and jellyfish aren’t the only things that come ashore during the summer. Hurricane season will be here before we know it. To ensure you’re ready, check out the Corpus Christi ER guide on preparing early.
Mekonnen S. “How to Prevent and Treat Stingray Injuries” National Capital Poison Center, https://www.poison.org/articles/how-to-prevent-and-treat-stingray-injuries-201
Frost E. “What’s Behind That Jellyfish Sting?” Smithsonian Magazine, 30 Aug. 2013, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/whats-behind-that-jellyfish-sting-2844876/
“The Stingray Shuffle,” University of Florida, https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/archive/hot_topics/environment/stingray_shuffle.shtml