Jellyfish are bell-shaped, gelatinous marine creatures with tentacles that are sometimes longer than three feet. Jellyfish venom oftentimes triggers allergic reactions with symptoms including rash, intense, stinging pain, and raised welts. Symptoms may then progress to include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, back and abdominal pain, fever, chills and sweating, and swelling of the lymph nodes. In severe reactions, a person may have difficulty breathing, slip into a coma, and even die.
First Aid for Jellyfish Stings
Anyone with severe symptoms such as intense pain, chest pain, or shortness of breath needs immediate medical attention. Call 911, manage signs of shock, and begin CPR as outlined in Chapter 2. For other reactions take the following steps:
Rinse the sting with seawater, not fresh water, as the latter will increase pain. Don't apply ice packs or rub the area. Irrigate eye stings with one gallon of fresh water.
Apply acetic acid 5% (white vinegar) or isopropyl alcohol; use one-fourth strength vinegar for mouth stings, but do not use vinegar in the case of any oral swelling or difficulty swallowing.
Remove any tentacles carefully with tweezers while wearing gloves.
Apply a paste of baking soda, mud, or shaving cream to the injury, then shave the area with a knife or razor and reapply vinegar or alcohol. The paste will prevent additional toxin discharge during the shaving.
Minimize movement of affected area to reduce spread of the poison. (For box jellyfish stings, wrap the extremity similar to wrapping a sprained ankle, making sure that toes and fingers are still pink, and leave bandaged until you receive medical attention.)
Take OTC pain relievers as directed and apply 1% hydrocortisone cream two to three times daily, or use antihistamines such as Benadryl to relieve itching.
Your doctor may prescribe topical and oral steroids, and if you continue to have redness and irritation after two to three days, it may be a sign of bacterial infection of the injury and you need to see your doctor. Be aware that allergic reactions to jellyfish stings may occur up to four weeks afterward, so watch for any signs.