You—or a friend or family member—gets stung by a jellyfish at the beach. What do you do?
You hopefully already know not to pee on it—that myth, perpetuated by Monica’s infamous sting on Friends, has already been debunked—but you might think to rinse the sting with seawater or scrape off the tentacles. Though better than using the pee method, these may not be the best way to treat a jellyfish sting, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
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The study, published in Toxins, a peer-reviewed journal of toxinology, says rinsing with seawater can often make a jellyfish sting more painful by spreading cnidae—the cells that carry venom—from the original sting site to other parts of the body. It also says there’s no evidence that rinsing with seawater deactivates the stinging cells.
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Attempting to immediately scrape off the tentacles or using shaving cream or baking soda with a razor or credit card could be even worse, as it might cause cells that hadn’t already released venom to do so, causing more pain for the sting victim and increasing the amount of jellyfish venom in his or her body.
So what can you do?
The authors of this study suggest dousing the sting site with undiluted vinegar—which they found to stop the cnidae from releasing any more venom—for at least 30 seconds. After this, it’s safe to remove the stingers.
If you don’t have vinegar on hand, the best method is to carefully remove the tentacles by plucking them off the victim (preferably with tweezers), not by rubbing or scraping them off. You can also use StingNoMore Spray—this study found that the spray worked like vinegar to clean the sting site and inactivate the stinging cells. After the tentacles and cnidae have been removed, apply hot packs to the sting site or soak the site in hot water for 45 minutes to minimize pain.
Peeing on a sting might sound easier (although Monica couldn't do it herself, as we all know), but it won’t do the sting victim—or you—any favors. Vinegar isn’t necessarily at the top of anyone’s beach packing list, but keeping a bottle of it or some StingNoMore Spray in your car is the easiest way to be prepared for a jellyfish sting.