Home / Bites & Stings / Jellyfish sting

Jellyfish sting


The most commonly seen jellyfish are the purple jellyfish and the sea nettle, both found along the Atlantic coast. These jellyfish usually cause only local skin irritation. There are other jellyfish, such as the lion’s mane, which is 8 feet long with tentacles as long as 2 feet. This animal is found along both coasts. Contact with the tentacles produces severe burning. If there is prolonged exposure to the tentacles, it can result in muscle cramping and respiratory failure.

Treatment has 3 main objectives: to relieve pain, alleviate the affect of the venom, and to control shock, if present. The most important step is to make sure that there are no tentacles attached to the skin. If so, the stinging from the venom may continue. If there are visible tentacle fragments, remove them with forceps (tweezers), or if the fragments are tiny, shave the area. The wounds should be washed with seawater, then irrigated with either vinegar, rubbing alcohol, or baking soda. You should seek care in a local emergency room for symptoms such as headache, muscle cramping, nausea and vomiting, or seizures.

Two other jellyfish are noteworthy. Firstly, the Portuguese man-of-war, which is about 1 foot in size with tentacles reaching 75 feet, is present along the Atlantic coast. Their tentacles contain one of the most powerful marine toxins that can even discharge when they are dead on the beach. The tentacles are transparent, and many swimmers are stung without even seeing the animal in the water. The effects may remain local with pain and irritation at the sting site or may be systemic, including headache, muscle aches, fever a rigid belly, joint aches, vomiting, kidney failure, and coma. Death can occur if the sting area is large compared with the size of the victimThere is no antivenin available for the sting of a Portuguese man-of-war.

Treatment for local reactions is the same as stated for common jellyfish above. For more severe systemic reactions, treatment may include antihistamines, steroids, and pain killers such as codeine or Demerol. Treatment for systemic symptoms should be in an emergency room. The second noteworthy jellyfish is the sea wasp or Pacific box jellyfish, which is indigenous to the waters off Australia. The effects of the sting of this jellyfish are similar to that of the Portuguese man-of-war. Treatment is the same, except for the fact that there is antivenin available for the Pacific box jellyfish.