Don’t Pee On a Jellyfish Sting to Stop the Pain, but Do This Instead. Forget what you learned from the TV show “Friends.” Here’s what really works

Sharks aren’t the only ocean creatures you should worry about at the beach this year.That’s because jellyfish populations are on the rise—due in part to global warming, which creates ideal conditions like warmer waters for them to thrive, says Christie Wilcox, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Pacific Cnidaria Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

 That means your risk of getting stung by one of them is higher than ever. About 200,000 people are stung each year in Florida alone, the National Science Foundation estimates.
So what should you do if you get stung?Despite what you may have learned from “Friends,” peeing on it isn’t the answer.

What is: Submerging the sting in very hot water, according to new research published in the journal Toxins.

Researchers reviewed more than 2,000 articles on the topic and found that heat is most effective at reducing pain and other symptoms such as inflammation and tissue damage.

That’s because the jellyfish venom is heat-sensitive, so applying heat inactivates it, says Wilcox, who coauthored the study.

“The sooner heat is applied, the better,” she says.

Peeing on the sting, on the other hand, doesn’t provide relief because it just isn’t hot enough to inactivate the venom, Wilcox says.

(And don’t forget the sunscreen while you’re at the beach.

The Step-By-Step Plan to Treating a Jellyfish Sting

First, rinse the affected area thoroughly with vinegar for at least 30 seconds, says Wilcox.

This helps remove any still-remaining tentacles from your skin and prevents their stinging cells from firing. If you don’t get rid of them, they can continue to cause you some serious pain.

Many beaches in jellyfish-heavy area keep vinegar on hand for these situations, either in the lifeguards’ first-aid kits, or at posts throughout the beach.

 

In a pinch, you can flood the wounded area with seawater to lift the tentacles off the skin.

Use a bucket or a cup to pour water over the area. If you don’t have one available, you can cup water in your hand.

Just make sure your hand is covered with something—say, a spare T-shirt—when it comes close to the area, since seawater doesn’t render the tentacles unable to sting like vinegar does.

Then, immerse the area in clean water as hot as you can stand for at least 20 minutes as soon as possible.

A hot shower can also help if you’re stung in an area that’s difficult to immerse, such as your chest or back.

Beach bathrooms or changing stations will have hot water, but if you’re at a secluded beach, you might be out of luck.

In those cases, you should plan ahead: Packing reusable instant hot packs if you’re going to be in an area where you could get stung can be a good alternative, Wilcox says.

If you forgot the hot pack, ask a buddy to run to the nearest drugstore to get one for you. In the meantime, you can pop an OTC painkiller to help take the edge off.

You should start to feel better after 20 to 30 minutes after treating the sting.

Painful as they can be, most jellyfish stings aren’t serious. But you should still give your doctor a call after you’re stung.

Symptoms like difficulty breathing, lower back pain, tightness in your chest, or aching in other places beyond the sting site can indicate a serious reaction.

In those cases, you should seek emergency treatment as soon as possible.

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