CPR First Aid

Jellyfish Stings and How to Treat Them

Jellyfish Stings and How to Treat Them

The coastlines of Australia are a marvel to explore, but it can also mean a trip to the ER if you get stung by a jellyfish. While most jellyfish stings are minor, some can be quite painful and even life-threatening. It’s important to keep an eye out for jellyfish when heading to the beach. In this blog post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about jellyfish stings, including how to treat them. Keep reading for more information!

What are Stingers?

Jellyfish are sea creatures with tentacles, which are long, thin, elastic, and house cells called nematocytes that shoot poison into the skin. The tentacles are used for catching food and for defence when they feel threatened. Jellyfish stings are a common occurrence in Australia’s tropical waters.

A jellyfish stinger can either refer to the part of the tentacle that injects poison into the skin when it is touched. And it is also the nickname for certain types of jellyfish in Australia that are capable of injecting a very potent venom that can cause serious harm to humans.

Stinger Season in Australia

The Australian jellyfish stinger season typically runs from November to April. However, there can be regional variations, so it is always best to check with local authorities before swimming. During this season, swimmers should take precautions to avoid being stung, such as wearing a full-body swimsuit and avoiding areas where jellyfish are known to congregate. If you do get stung, seek medical attention immediately.

Types of Jellyfish Stingers

There are many dangerous jellyfish in Australia, including the Box Jellyfish, Irukandji Jellyfish and Sea Wasps.

Box Jellyfish

A box jellyfish sting is extremely painful and can cause serious injury or even death. The venom of a box jellyfish can kill a human within minutes and there is no known antidote. Victims of a box jellyfish sting often report feeling an intense burning sensation followed by paralysis and respiratory arrest. Box jellyfish stings are considered medical emergencies and victims should be treated immediately.

There is no effective treatment for a box jellyfish sting other than supportive care. Victims who survive a box jellyfish sting often suffer from long-term effects such as nerve damage, scarring, and psychological trauma.

The Irukandji Syndrome

An Irukandji Jellyfish is a small, incredibly venomous species of jellyfish. They are found in the waters off northern Australia, and their sting is considered to be among the most painful of all jellyfish stings. Irukandji Jellyfish are extremely difficult to spot, as they are only about 2 cm (0.8 inches) in diameter. Their sting can cause the following:

  • severe pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure

In some cases, it can even lead to death. There is no known antidote for their sting, so victims must be treated with supportive care until the symptoms subside. Thankfully, Irukandji Jellyfish are not aggressive and will only sting humans if they are provoked.

Protection against Irukandji Jellyfish stings

If you find yourself in the waters of northern Australia, it is important to be aware of the dangers posed by Irukandji Jellyfish. Wearing a full-body wetsuit will help to protect you from their sting, and avoiding areas where they are known to congregate will further reduce your risk. If you are stung, seek medical help immediately and do not attempt to treat the symptoms yourself. With prompt treatment, most victims of Irukandji Jellyfish stings make a full recovery.

Sea Wasps

A sea wasp is a dangerous type of jellyfish found in warm waters around the world. They have a bell-shaped body and long, stinging tentacles that can reach up to 10 feet in length. Sea wasps are known to be aggressive predators, preying on fish, crustaceans, and even other jellyfish. Their stings are incredibly painful and can often be fatal to humans.

Bluebottle and Minor Jellyfish

In Australia, Bluebottle jellyfish stings are the most frequent. They are not true jellyfish and are usually seen in non-tropical oceans and washed up on shore. These can leave portions of the skin that have come into contact with the jellyfish tentacles with blisters and excruciating discomfort. After 1-2 hours, the discomfort typically subsides or ceases, and a few days later, the sores may go away completely. Additionally, the region where you were stung may be red or have a rash.

What to Do if You are Stung by a Jellyfish?

There are a few things you can do to ease the pain and discomfort. First, try to remove the tentacles from your skin using a blunt object like a credit card. If the tentacles are still attached, gently rinse the area with seawater. You can also apply heat to the affected area using a hot water bottle or heating pad.

Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen can also help. Finally, be sure to monitor the affected area for any signs of infection. If you experience severe pain, swelling, or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

Remedies and Treatments for Jellyfish Stings

It can be challenging to identify the type of jellyfish that stung you. If any sting is felt, treat it as if it were caused by a huge box jellyfish or any of its related species.

How to Treat a Major Box Jellyfish Sting?

The person is managed as a victim of a sting from major box jellyfish if:

  • it happens in Australia’s tropics
  • no sure identification of the type of jellyfish
  • there are numerous sting locations 
  • the person stung appears sick

First Aid Steps for Jellyfish Stings

A box jellyfish sting requires prompt medical attention. The patient must leave the water immediately so that they can obtain first aid and other life-saving measures. The next steps include:

  1. Wash the affected area with acetic acid for at least half a minute. Toxicologists in North America recommend using vinegar wash as a major part of treatment. In the Indo-Pacific region, they recommend using acetic acid first, as vinegar can make the symptoms worse.
  2. Nematocytes and tentacles on the body should be removed with the use of tweezers. A credit card can also be used for this, but the pressure must be moderate to prevent the release of further toxins.
  3. Call the local ambulance services or triple zero (000)
  4. While waiting, watch the person’s breathing pattern 
  5. Keep an eye on their pulse
  6. Follow DRSABCD. If the person isn’t breathing or exhibiting symptoms of cardiac arrest, CPR must be done immediately.
  7. Resuscitation may be continued by emergency personnel, who may also use other equipment to provide oxygen.
  8. The box jellyfish victim may be given painkillers, antivenom, and ongoing therapy for breathing problems, such as intubation and a ventilator once medical care is available

Medications Available

  • antivenom
  • zinc and copper gluconate
  • An injectable medication is available that blocks the venom and reduces pain and scarring if administered not more than 15 mins from the sting.

Jellyfish Sting Prevention

To lessen the chances of getting stung by jellyfish, try the following:

  • When warnings regarding jellyfish are posted, stay out of the water.
  • On the beach or in the sea, avoid touching any jellyfish.
  • Put on a body-length wetsuit and water-resistant shoes.
  • Bring a first aid bag and know what to do if someone gets stung by a box jellyfish.
  • Avoid any waters that may contain box jellyfish by keeping an eye out for any posted signs or warnings.
  • Alternatively, you can swim close to a lifeguard who can administer first aid or, if your symptoms are severe, contact an ambulance on your behalf.
  • In swimming regions where box jellyfish are known to be present, check with the locals to make sure there haven’t been any recent sightings.

A first aider can be of help when the lifeguard is far away or unavailable. If you are fond of Australian shores, it would be beneficial to become first aid qualified in emergency situations like this, especially that jellyfish stings have no known cure.

CPR First Aid is a leading Recognised Training Organisation (RTO) in Australia with thousands of training delivered all over the country every year. Check our first aid training rooms near you. For more details, contact us.

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