The first time I ever saw a box jellyfish, I was twelve. Our father took us to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I never forgot what he said... That it was the most deadly creature on earth. To me it was just the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. ~ Michael Ealy (as Ben Thomas in the 2006 movie Seven Pounds)
True indeed. Some of the most beautiful things that our eyes come across are, often, some of the most dangerous creations of Nature. Jellyfish are some such creatures of Nature that, despite their odd appearance, hold an aesthetic appeal, especially if there is a barrier of the glass wall of an aquarium between them and the spectator. Although they look like harmless gas-filled balloons that drift about in the oceans, there is more to these creatures that hits the eyes. Beneath that beautiful, translucent, inflated umbrella, there are a host of deadly tentacles that lie in wait for an opportunity to brush against another creature. The moment another creature, whom the jellyfish discerns as an enemy or predators, brushes close enough, these tentacles, that seem to have a mind of their own, lash out, pierce the skin of the victim and inject their venom inside it. There is a considerable debate regarding jellyfish sting remedy.
Right from old wives' tales of urine and vinegar being effective antidotes to scientific refutations of the same, opinions differ regarding what should be the first course of action if one is stung by a jellyfish. Before we take a look at the various jellyfish sting remedies and find out if they really work or are actually myths, let's understand the potency of jellyfish sting in humans. While most jellyfish stings are harmless to humans, with a few of them causing no more than topical discomfort (burning sensation, pain around the wound, etc.), the sting of certain deadly jellyfish species have been known to be potent enough to cause death. The venom of the box jellyfish comes under this latter category. Carrying ahead in this note, let's take a look at what workable options are there in the name of jellyfish sting remedy.
How to Treat a Jellyfish Sting
Before we even venture towards the remedy itself, let's first understand the facts surrounding the stinging mechanism of jellyfish. The tentacles of jellyfish that they use to deliver a sting contain a type of venomous cells known as nematocyst. Each nematocyst is contained within a bulb like structure known as nematocyte. This outer covering has a trigger which, when activated, the nematocyte ejects towards and penetrates the victim (who was the possible cause for the activation of the trigger) and the nematocysts that are contained within the nematocytes are released inside the victim. This release and spread of nematocytes is what leads to toxicity in the victim. Now let's take a look at various jellyfish sting remedies, from the scientific ones to the traditional or popular ones and see if they work for the better or for the worse.
The first thing you need to do once you've been stung is to GET THE HELL OUT OF WATER....unless, of course, you wish to repeat the experience! Next, you may try and tweeze out the sting but it is best to leave it to medical experts as you may further aggravate the wound. Till medical help arrives, you can pour alcohol, vinegar, acetic acid, meat tenderizer, ammonia, lemon juice or any acidic solution over the wound. However, take care not to rub it in as the rubbing may further assist the nematocysts to spread further inside the body. The acid content of these solutions partially disable the spread of the nematocysts. However, there is no scientific evidence that these have any effect but applying acidic solutions over jellyfish sting wounds is a very popular jellyfish sting remedy. In fact, most Australian beaches have vinegar stands at frequent intervals for such contingencies.
Baking soda and urine, though believed to be effective, may not be that effective in countering the venom of a jellyfish sting. In fact, the various contaminants in urine may further worsen the situation by causing infection. Baking soda might work for sometime in decreasing the pain, but it has no long-term effect on the venom. Rubbing sand or using a shaving razor to remove the sting may worsen the condition as, in case the sting is not ejected, the scraping of the skin may cause damage to dermal tissues, allowing the nematocysts to spread further and attack the damaged and exposed tissues.
Under no condition should you use fresh water to wash the wounds! Fresh water causes the embedded sting to swell, making it even more difficult to be removed! If you must wash the wound, use saltwater. Cold compress, steroid cream, hydrogen peroxide, pressure immobilization bandages, vodka or methylated spirits must never be applied to jellyfish sting wounds as they often accelerate the spread of the venom.
The best thing to do when stung by a jellyfish is to seek medical help. If it is not immediately available, an acetic acid solution or plain distilled white vinegar is the best home remedy for jellyfish sting that is effective in neutralizing the poison. Box jellyfish is the most poisonous of all jellyfish and one of the most venomous creatures on earth. A single effectively delivered sting can lead to cardiac arrest and subsequent death. Therefore, a typical remedy for box jellyfish sting would include the performance of CPR and the administration of Chironex antivenom.
Further, to arrest the allergic reactions that often accompany a jellyfish sting, a generic jellyfish sting treatment may include the administration of anti histamines to control the breakout. To sum it all up, the first aid for most toxic jellyfish sting would typically include washing the wound with saltwater and application of acetic acid or white vinegar without rubbing it in. Rubbing the skin or applying pressure to the wound must be avoided at all costs. Remember, not rubbing the wound and not washing it with fresh water is the best and most basic remedy for jellyfish sting. So, the next time you plan a beach vacation, find out if the waters around it are jellyfish habitat. If so, don't forget to equip yourself with the basic first aids mentioned here and be careful when in water.