Stung By A Jellyfish? Hot Water, Not Pee, To Alleviate Pain

By Amir Khan on June 22, 2012 9:03 AM EDT

Jellyfish
There are a lot of folk remedies for jellyfish stings, but according to a new study, the majority of those are ineffective (Photo: Creative Commons)

There are a lot of folk remedies for jellyfish stings, but according to a new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Thursday, says that the majority of those are ineffective. Hot water and topical painkillers are more effective than any other remedies, researchers said.

Popular remedies include vinegar, meat tenderizer, baking soda mixed with water, or, in a pinch, urinating on the sting. However, the majority of those are not as effective as hot water and painkillers, according to the study.

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"Current research demonstrates variable response to treatment, often with conflicting results according to species studied, which contributes to considerable confusion about what treatment is warranted," Nicholas Ward, study author and researcher at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in the study.

The American Heart Association and the American Red Cross recommend putting a slurry of baking soda and water on the sting, but that is based on research from Indonesia and Australia, researchers said. Those jellyfish are not found in North American waters, according to the study, so the researchers studied local jellyfish and found hot water and painkillers containing lidocaine to be the most effective.

"The principle behind the use of lidocaine is that it acts as a local anesthetic (and) appears to inhibit the further discharge of nematocysts remaining on the skin," Ward told Reuters.

Nematocysts are "poison sacs" that the jellyfish leave behind after they sting. It's important to remove those, researchers said, because they can continue to release venom.

Hot water works by denaturing the venom sacs, but most people do not carry hot water or lidocaine with them to the beach. In that case, removing the venom sacs and flushing the sting with salt water might help. However, you have to be careful not to rupture the sac, Ward said.

"The idea is to avoid crushing the sac and spreading venom, which wiping off with a towel could do," he said.

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