Ask The Expert

Jellyfish Stings

July 24, 2008|By Holly Selby

Yuck! Jellyfish, the squishy bane of the late-summer swimmer, are back again. Although few people have severe reactions to jellyfish stings, those who encounter the creatures are unlikely to forget the meeting soon, says Dr. Roy Cragway, an urgent care physician at Atlantic ImmediCare in Ocean City.

What are the symptoms of a jellyfish sting?

They're quite variable. They may range from localized itching and burning in the area in which the individual has come into contact with the tentacles to a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can include rapid pulse, shortness of breath and loss of consciousness.

What causes the stinging when a jellyfish brushes against you?

The tentacles release small cysts from their barbs, and they puncture your skin and that causes the intense itching. It is usually accidental: You happen to brush against them, not the other way around.

How often do people have severe reactions, which can include difficulty breathing, coma and death, to jellyfish stings?

Less than 1 percent of those stung, and that is being generous.

What should you do if you are stung by a jellyfish?

Immediately, you should take a handful of sand and rub the area where you have been stung. Use the sand as you would sandpaper and try to remove the cysts off the skin. Then you should apply vinegar to it. Also, taking something for the pain would be in order, such as Advil or Tylenol.

What about in cases of more severe reactions?

One of the first measures would be to take Benadryl, and if any other symptoms occur, go to the hospital.

When do you need to consult a doctor?

If you begin having symptoms such as vomiting, headache, shortness of breath, throat-closing, muscle cramps. All of these can be symptomatic of a severe allergic reaction.

How soon can these more severe symptoms occur?

They can happen within five minutes. They can also happen the next day, especially if you don't make an effort to remove the tentacles and the cysts off the skin with sand and vinegar.

Is there anything to the theory that meat tenderizer helps?

That is an old wives' tale and generally doesn't work.

What is the high season for jellyfish?

That would depend upon the body of water that you are swimming in. They follow the warmth in the water.


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