What to do after a jellyfish sting: remedies and what to avoid!
During the summer the number of swimmers increases and with it also that of the stings caused by jellyfish. Here’s what to do in case of an unfortunate encounter.
In the Mediterranean Sea live different specie from jellyfish but only some of them can be a potential problem for bathers including the commune Pelagia noctiluca and the cubomedusa Carybdea marsupialis. The number of specimens and the diversity of these animals is constantly increasing in our seas also due to the climate changes which favor the adaptation of species tropical (some more dangerous) and recurrent populations explosions. In the next few paragraphs of this article, we will bring back expert advice and recommendations on how to behave in case you were stung by one of these invertebrates.
Why do jellyfish “sting”?
The jellyfish, belonging to the phylum of cnidaria o coelenterates are characterized by numerous and long tentacles (even meters) studded with nematocysts which issue a stinging poison – used for catching prey or as a defense system – when it comes into contact. It should be remembered that, despite the generous size, these are organisms that are part of the plankton; that is, they are carried away by the sea currents.
While being able to perform certain active movements, when you are stung by a jellyfish it does not happen by direct aggression, but by the simple fact of having ended up on it. Swimming or because of the aforementioned sea currents. During the summer season, when the coasts are filled with bathers on vacation, there is an inevitable statistical increase in bites, which can also be particularly painful. Furthermore, in sensitive and predisposed subjects, there is the danger of anaphylactic shock. Here’s what to do after being stung by one of these animals.
What happens after a jellyfish stings?
Realizing that you are wearing a jellyfish and experiencing the burning and the ache more or less intense (in some cases excruciating) due to the contact with the tentacles is not a pleasant experience, however, losing the lucidity in those situations is absolutely to be avoided. As indicated, the jellyfish is not attacking us, but we just ended up against it.
If we struggle, especially against the sea current, we risk only being touched by more tentacles and letting other nematocysts release venom, further worsening our situation. As explained by Dr. Antonio De Bitonto, Head of the Dermatology Operative Unit at the San Marco Polyclinic of the San Donato Group and the Smart Clinic, the hooked filaments that penetrate the skin release a “mixture of three stinging, paralyzing and neurotoxic proteins”, which are the basis of pain and inflammation (the skin becomes red and blisters may form).
In the water, therefore, it is necessary to keep calm and if you have the possibility, you must reach the shore with the same calm, otherwise, it is necessary to ask for help.
What to do in case of a jellyfish sting: the recommended remedies?
Once out of the water, explains the expert, it must be verified that there are no parts of the jellyfish on the body, possibly to be carefully eliminated. If done with your hands, gods must of course be used gloves otherwise a thin and rigid tool – such as a credit card – may be for you.
After removing any residue of the animal, the affected area should be rinsed immediately with sea water which helps dilute the toxins. It should not be used fresh water at this juncture, since as specified by the experts it has the unfortunate consequence of favoring the release of further poison from nematocysts possibly not “burst”.
For the cubomeduse most dangerous, the authoritative MSD Manuals for Healthcare Professionals recommend using vinegar and then the seawater, while for the stings from Portuguese caravel (which is not a jellyfish and is present only occasionally in the Mediterranean), it is recommended to use only sea water and not vinegar.
Recall that in the Mediterranean there are no dangerous cubomedusas like those found in Australia and in tropical seas, like the Chironex fleckeri however, the stings of Carybdea marsupialis, quite common in the lower Adriatic, can be extremely painful and dangerous for sensitive individuals.
What not to do after the jellyfish sting?
Dr. De Bitonto points out that it is important not to scratch and not rub the affected parts with the sand, to avoid amplifying the problems. He also recommends avoiding “grandmother’s remedies“, that is to say, ammonia, urine, vinegar o alcohol, because their use “could further inflame the affected part”.
After all, experts explain, you need a temperature of at least 40° C to deactivate toxins, remedies may also worsen inflammation. Curiously, the American scientists Robert A. Barish of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Thomas Arnold of the LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport, authors of the article on MSD Manuals, recommend using vinegar but only for jellyfish stings. bearing in mind that along the coasts of the United States live different and more dangerous species from ours).
After cleaning the affected area, dermatologists recommend treating it with an aluminum chloride astringent gel“Better if at a concentration of 5 percent”, writes Dr. De Bitonto, given that soothes itching e blocks the spread of toxins. Once the area affected by the sting has been treated, it is necessary to avoid exposing it to the sun for two or three days, not just to avoid the appearance of spots e scars but also because the affected skin is much more sensitive (this is why we recommend the use of high protection sun creams on the affected parts).
How long does the pain caused by the sting last?
Immediately after being stung by a jellyfish one often wonders how long the pain lasts, as in some cases it can be excruciating and unbearable. As explained in an article by the Seattle Children’s Hospital of the United States, which is also a leading research institute, the acute pain lasts approx 1 – 2 or while the itch can last for a week. If skin damage is significant, such as after contact with a particularly stinging species, red or purplish areas may persist for weeks.
The possible complications!
In the vast majority of cases, taking all the precautions indicated above it is not necessary to do anything else to treat the sting of a jellyfish, however, some particularly sensitive subjects after the unpleasant encounter may have an intense allergic reaction and risk one anaphylactic shock.
As explained by Dr. De Bitonto, should “generalized malaise arise (widespread skin reaction, breathing difficulties, sweating, pallor, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, confusion)” it is necessary to receive health assistance and therefore contact the Emergency Department. . Jellyfish like any other living organism must be respected and not feared or demonized; it is we who invade their natural habitat and we must pay the utmost attention to avoid any unpleasant encounters that are too close together.