What are they?
Jellyfish are free swimming marine animals, but they are not fish. They are invertebrates with an umbrella shaped body and training tentacles. The tentacles have stinging cells, which will release poison if they make contact with a person’s skin.
Jellyfish usually appear in large numbers in the summer as they thrive better in warm waters. Although the stings can be painful, the Mediterranean jellyfish are not thought to be particularly dangerous. The stings are not fatal, but allergic reactions are possible.
There are around two thousand species of Jellyfish in the world but less than one hundred are considered dangerous to humans. One well-known sea creature that is however dangerous and even resembles jellyfish but is not actually a jellyfish (it is a siphonophore), is the Portuguese Man o’ War. It has a floating air-bladder and very long venomous tentacles, which can pack a powerful sting. Its stings can cause more serious symptoms, such as stomach pain, muscle paralysis, breathing difficulty and fits.
How to prevent Stings
- Wear sandals or flip-flops on beaches. Dead jellyfish can still sting.
- Do not pick up dead jellyfish or body parts
- Stay alert when swimming.
- Do not swim alone or under the influence of alcohol.
- Wear body suits if you plan to dive or fish in infested waters.
How to treat Stings
A person becomes aware of being stung, due to intense pain, itching, rash and the appearance of raised welts. The following actions should be taken:
- If the stings involve the face, mouth, eyes, seek prompt medical attention.
- Remove stings if possible. You may need assistance for this.
- Wash the limb immediately in salt water, not freshwater, as fresh water will aggravate the stinging. Do not scrub.
- Immerse the limb in hot water, as hot as the person is able to bear (around 45 degrees Celsius) for 45 minutes, which reduces pain.
- Alternatively soak the limb in vinegar for about 15-20 minutes. This works by encourage the release of remaining poison, so it may initially increase the pain. Applying alcohol or urine has a similar effect.
- Do not apply sun lotion or ice packs, as these do not help.
- Paracetamol is usually adequate for managing the pain.
- If symptoms persist or the wound becomes red or inflamed, it could be infected and seek medical treatment.