5 Ways to Effectively Treat a Jellyfish Sting

May 7th 2016

Most jellyfish stings are effectively treated by rinsing the area, removing the stingers and submersing the sting in hot water. Victims can usually manage pain and other symptoms with over-the-counter medications, but in serious situations, prompt medical intervention is imperative.

Deactivate the Stinging Cells

Jellyfish continue to sting their victims, as well as anything else the tentacles contact, until there is no more venom to release. This can make the sting increasingly painful and also puts the person caring for the victim at risk. Rinsing the area for about 30 seconds with an appropriate solution deactivates the cells that allow the fish to sting repeatedly.

Freshwater or tap water may intensify the animal's ability to sting and should be avoided. A vinegar rinse is the best choice for stings that occur in tropical waters, such as the oceans around northern Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia, while rinsing with saltwater deactivates the cells of most North-Atlantic species of jellyfish.

Remove Stingers

Jellyfish typically leave behind stingers after an attack, and it isn't uncommon for small pieces of tentacles to remain attached to the skin as well. These pieces must be removed to eliminate the chance of continued stinging. Gently remove the stingers with tweezers, the edge of a credit card or a seashell, and then rinse the area again with an appropriate solution. Take care to keep sand away from the site of the sting, and avoid rubbing the area with a cloth or towel.

Use Heat and Ice

A hot bath or shower helps to relieve inflammation, pain and itching once the jellyfish stops stinging. Studies have shown that water temperatures above 122 degrees Fahrenheit are the most effective, but not everyone can tolerate this heat. Temperatures of at least 102 degrees are recommended, but using the hottest water the victim can stand is typically the best course of action. Apply ice packs as needed to relieve pain and reduce swelling.

Take Over-the-Counter Medications

Depending on the severity of the jellyfish sting, painful symptoms may last for a few hours or several days. Benadryl, lidocaine or a hydrocortisone cream can be used to ease itching, while ibuprofen and acetaminophen effectively relieve pain. Pay special attention to any wound marks that are open or oozing. Clean these spots every eight hours using a mild antiseptic, apply an antibiotic ointment to the sore and cover with an adhesive bandage.

See a Doctor

In some cases, a jellyfish sting requires immediate medical attention. A sting that covers most of a person's arm or leg could have serious side effects without prompt treatment. Call 911 if a person experiences signs of an allergic reaction, such as breathing difficulties, hives or dizziness. Stings from a box jellyfish, or sea wasp, also require immediate attention. These jellyfish are most common in the tropical waters of the Pacific near Indonesia, but they can live in any tropical or subtropical saltwater climate. A box jellyfish sting victim must be treated promptly with an antivenin medication.


A jellyfish sting can be quite painful, but it doesn't have to bring an end to your summer fun. Treatment options vary depending on the type of jellyfish and the severity of the sting, but in most cases, victims feel better within a few hours with proper care.

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