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How to treat a jellyfish sting

What’s the best way to treat a jellyfish sting?

Whenever you venture into salt water, there’s a potential for encountering a jellyfish. If one of these curious-looking creatures brushes against you, you’ll find yourself in immediate pain. When this happens, you want relief as fast as possible.

While there are many home remedies, according to the Mayo Clinic, the best way to treat a jellyfish sting is by carefully removing the tentacles with tweezers and soaking the affected area in hot water.

Why do jellyfish sting?

Jellyfish are extremely fragile creatures that are made up of 95% water. The only way a jellyfish can protect itself is by deploying the venom in its sting. Additionally, a jellyfish uses its sting to stun or kill prey, so it can draw that prey up into the center of its bell for nourishment.

How does a jellyfish sting?

The long tentacles that trail behind a jellyfish contain thousands of microscopic coiled, hollow, barbed tubes that are full of venom. These organelle are called nematocysts. When triggered by touch, the nematocysts uncoil — like a hose when water is turned on — and penetrate human skin and release venom. All of this takes place in mere nanoseconds.

What is jellyfish venom?

The venom of jellyfish varies from species to species and consists mostly of proteins, neurotoxins, bioactive lipids and other molecules. While there are thousands of types of jellyfish populating the oceans of the world, only a few possess venom that’s capable of causing a fatal reaction in a human. The most dangerous species is the box jellyfish, which is found in the warm waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans.

What does a jellyfish sting look like?

A jellyfish sting has a distinctive pattern that can usually be diagnosed simply by appearance. The part of the tentacle that makes contact with the individual will leave an imprint on the skin in a red, brown or purplish mark. These marks often swell and create a pattern of welts that may burn, sting, prickle or radiate throbbing pain.

What are the symptoms of a jellyfish sting?

Besides the immediate stinging sensation and the distinctive tentacle patterns created on the skin, there may be accompanying symptoms such as a headache, stomach pain, nausea and/or vomiting. More severe reactions include muscle pain, muscle spasms, weakness, drowsiness, confusion and/or fainting. Additionally, some jellyfish stings can result in complications such as blisters or a rash that occur as much as 2 weeks after a sting. In rare instances, a jellyfish sting can cause difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeats and result in death.

What contributes to the severity of a jellyfish sting?

The most important factor that contributes to the severity of a jellyfish sting is the type of jellyfish that caused the sting. Beyond that, the size of the jellyfish, the size and overall health of the person, how long the person was exposed to the stingers and how large the sting area is all may contribute to how severe a jellyfish sting will be.  

Jellyfish sting treatment

Unless you have a severe reaction and need emergency care or medication or the sting occurred in a sensitive area such as your eye, the treatment for a jellyfish sting is fairly basic.

  1. Using a pair of tweezers, carefully remove any and all visible tentacles.
  2. Prepare a bath that is 110 degrees and soak the affected area for at least 20 minutes but no more than 45 minutes. If no thermometer is available, the bath water should feel hot, but not scalding.

What not to do if you get stung by a jellyfish

Just as important as knowing what to do when you get stung by a jellyfish is knowing what not to do. There is an abundance of bad advice available that either doesn’t work or can make the situation worse.

  • Vinegar is hit or miss. While some claim that vinegar deactivates the stinging mechanism that triggers the release of more venom, not enough research has been compiled to validate this as an effective medical treatment. In some instances, it may help reduce pain, but in others, it may be ineffective.
  • Do not urinate on the sting.
  • Do not rinse with fresh water or seawater.
  • Do not apply meat tenderizer, alcohol, ethanol or ammonia.
  • Do not use a stiff item such as a credit card to try and scrape off the stingers.
  • Do not rub or scratch the affected area.
  • Do not apply tight bandages.

Jellyfish sting prevention

There are two ways you can reduce your potential for jellyfish stings: avoidance and preparation.


  • Do not swim during a jellyfish bloom.
  • Do not swim or wade in an area where you can see jellyfish.
  • Do not touch jellyfish that have washed up on the beach — a jellyfish can still sting after it has died.


  • Wear a wetsuit or some kind of protective clothing when swimming in areas where there are jellyfish.
  • Use a jellyfish sting prevention lotion. While this is not 100% effective, it may reduce the occurrence and severity of stings.

What you need to buy for jellyfish stings

Tweezer Guru Pointed Tweezers

These precision tweezers are needed to provide a strong pinpointed grip to target and remove any visible traces of jellyfish tentacles.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Polder Cooking Thermometer

This dishwasher-safe cooking thermometer can be used to make sure the temperature of the bath water is 110 degrees. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond

Cortizone-10 Maximum Strength

If itching persists, this tube of maximum strength anti-itch cream with aloe may provide relief for hours at a time.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Labelar Stinger Suit

An easy to wear, one-piece, quick-drying stinger suit that can help protect kids from UV rays, sea salts and jellyfish stings.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Safe Sea SPF50+ Marine Friendly Sunscreen and Jellyfish Lotion

This innovative product offers a two-tier defense against jellyfish stings. First, the lotion makes the swimmer’s skin too slippery for the jellyfish's tentacles to easily attach. Second, if the tentacles do connect, the lotion can make the jellyfish think it’s attached to nonorganic matter, which may reduce the severity of the sting.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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