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Easing The Jellyfish's Sting

One of the more painful experiences in life is a run-in with a jellyfish. CBS News health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains what to do if you are stung by one of the sea's less friendly creatures.

There are many different types of jellyfish found all over the world. They come in all shapes and sizes and inhabit either shallow coastal waters or the much deeper sea.

All of them have tentacles that contain stinging cells with tiny barbs that inject venom. But not all jellyfish are dangerous to people -- in fact, jellyfish stings are rarely fatal. But some jellyfish are more poisonous than others, and numerous stings can cause serious problems.

If you're stung, there are some important steps you should take immediately:

  • Take an oral pain reliever as soon as possible.
  • Carefully remove any remaining jellyfish tentacle from your body without letting it touch any other part of your skin. Because it can still sting you, cover your hand and pull it off -- don't rub it off.
  • Wash the area to remove any stinging cells left behind that may not have been triggered.
An oral pain reliever like aspirin or ibuprofen is the quickest, most effective way of treating the pain. Antihistamine and steroid creams do not work at all for jellyfish stings, and anaesthetic spray or cream doesn't work quickly enough.

You can try gently putting meat tenderizer or sand on the sting, but that mainly works to distract attention from the pain rather than to relieve it.

If you have any concerns or questions about the severity of the sting and don't know what to do, see a doctor right away.

Vinegar, lemon juice and other liquids that contain acid can be used to wash specific types of jellyfish stings and prevent any unused stinging cells from injecting more venom. But while this may help treat the sting of a Portuguese man-of-war, it won't work with other types of jellyfish.

For the sea nettle jellyfish, the acid can actually trigger the injection, so baking soda is a better choice. If you're not sure which kind of sting you have, you can use more neutral seawater to be on the safe side.

Reported By Dr. Emily Senay

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