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How to Treat Jellyfish Stings


Jellyfish stings, or the risk of them, are a time-honored part of summer. The tentacles have tiny stinging cells called nematocysts. Contact with the nematocysts leads to intense stinging pain, followed by itching and hives that appear after a few minutes and can last hours to days.

Contrary to urban legend (perpetuated by a very funny "Friends" episode, am I showing my age here?), the initial treatment is NOT to have your good friend urinate on the area! Instead, you'll want to exfoliate the area as soon as possible to remove the nematocysts. A mixture of sand and seawater can be used to gently scrub the area. Then, as soon as possible, soak the skin in a warm acidic white vinegar solution for 15 minutes (1 part vinegar to 9 parts clean warm water) to remove the remaining nematocysts. Start taking ibuprofen 400 mg, three times a day for three days, to block the inflammation.

The second part of caring for a jellyfish sting involves soothing the hives and the itching. A topical hydrocortisone prescription (or 1% over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, if that's all you have), applied three times a day, can relieve pain and reduce inflammation. After three days, you can switch to topical aloe vera gel three times a day, preferably straight from the plant.

The hives might blister, and the blisters might rupture. That is normal, and you can apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin or Polysporin) to any open areas and cover them with a loose bandage. The sting can take as long as 7-10 days to heal completely.

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