Jellyfish sting: remedies and myths

The jellyfish sting is one of the most feared. Perhaps because of the “exotic” aura of those colorful gelatinous beings and perhaps also because of the fear and uncertainty of not knowing if they will ever appear among the waters. Know the useful remedies and also the useless myths! It can be very useful if you or our towel neighbors get stung by a jellyfish these summer days.

What exactly are jellyfish?

Let’s focus on the bugs at hand. Jellyfish are pelagic  and cnidary marine animals  . Marching a cheap etymology with the swear words:

  1. Pelagicdoes not mean that they have hair, but that they live in the sea, which is the part of the sea that is not on the continental shelf. Pelago in Greek means open sea .
  2. Cnidarianscomes from the Greek knide (nettle), that is, they have a stinging capacity. Cnidocytes are therefore the stinging cells ( cyto = cell) of jellyfish. These cells have a defensive function and act as a kind of needle that injects the venom into the bather.

In short: they are creatures that live in the wide sea and sting.


Knowing the enemy

Although there are several types of jellyfish, they keep in common their gelatinous consistency (in English they are called jellyfish ) and they have two different parts:

– Parasol (or umbrella).

– Tentacles. Although cnidocytes are found throughout the body, they are mainly located in the tentacles. It is important to know that even though jellyfish die, cnidocytes still have their stinging ability . Especially those that remain dead on the shore since with the waves that poison and go  they rehydrate and recover their poisonous capacity. With jellyfish, as with  styes , still hands even if the body asks us to squeeze with the little finger!


What types of jellyfish are there on Spanish beaches?

Unlike mothers, there are more than one jellyfish and not all are the same.

The lousiest bad guy in the movie is  Physalia physalis . It is known as a murderous jellyfish or Portuguese caravel . Its venom has neurotoxic, cytotoxic and cardiotoxic properties and when it is found on the beaches, not only should bathing be prohibited, but hunt and catch jellyfish.

Do not panic because the most warrior on our coasts are usually Pelagia noctiluca and  Chrysaora hysoscella , both very stinging but without the creepy effects previously described. One of the largest species (up to 40 cm in diameter) is  Rhizostoma pulmo. When these three species are on the loose, bathing should be prohibited.

One of the most curious and not very stinging is  Cotylorhiza tuberculata, which is called ” fried egg ” for obvious reasons. Back in May the San Juan beach was plagued with something similar to Aurelia spp . to the delight of my children (who asked to take them home as pets) and fright from their mother (that is, me). These two species are not very stinging.


Jellyfish sting symptoms

Most bites do not carry severe symptoms. Itching, stinging, pain, and inflammation are common. In addition to redness, blisters and blisters may occur that could leave scars.

Although not usual, nausea, vomiting, cramps or even anaphylactic shock can also occur.


Jellyfish sting remedies

  1. Wash the area without rubbing with seawateror saline.
  2. Remove the tentacleswith gloves and with a flat surface like a credit card. If we use tweezers we run the risk of breaking the remains and leaving them inside.
  3. Apply 50% bicarbonatewith sea water.
  4. Apply icebut NOT DIRECTLY. Always wrapped in a bag or cloth for 5-15 minutes.
  5. The use of anti– inflammatory drugs suchas ibuprofen and topical corticosteroid ointments that relieve itching can be assessed . Antihistamines can be used but not topical antihistamimics because they can be photosensitizers .
  6. If symptoms worsen, you should go to the emergency room.
  7. For the “day after”, do not forget to always protect the area from the bite with adequate photoprotection .


All these tips are summarized in the following infographic that has been very cute:


Myths about jellyfish stings

Once we know how to treat a jellyfish sting, it is necessary to banish all those myths of yesterday, today and always as it is convenient to apply….

  1. Sand: nothing to make a “plaster” with mud for many movies in which we have seen.
  2. Freshwater (tap water).
  3. Soap.
  4. Alcohol.
  5. Urine. At the end of the post I leave a link in which Joey and Chandler from Friends have a lot to say about it.

With all these home remedies against jellyfish  previously mentioned, the only thing we do is contribute to further spread its venom through the skin and facilitate the infection of the lesion (especially with the sand and urine, in case someone doubted it).

  1. Vinegar: while for the sting of some jellyfish such as  Carybdea marsupialis  or Olindias phosphorica it can be useful to apply vinegar, it  can be counterproductive in the case of others like the murderous mesusa. Therefore, unless we know perfectly well what our attacking jellyfish is, the general advice is not to apply vinegar. Like mushrooms: if we are not sure we know who the guy is playing with, better stay still.


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