Nothing ruins a perfect day at the beach like a jellyfish sting, but quick action can help diminish the symptoms. Here, Health‘s contributing medical editor, Dr. Raj, shares four tips on what to do—plus what not to do—should you or a loved one have a run-in with a jelly.
1. Remove the stingers
Your first step should be to try to clear away the pieces of tentacle embedded in your skin as quickly as possible. If they’re right on the surface, you might be able to gently rinse them off with salt water (not fresh water, though—more on this later). You could also try scraping off stingers with the edge of a credit card, says Dr. Raj.
2. Deactivate the venom
Wash the area with vinegar. Or make a paste with baking soda and seawater (again, not fresh) and gently apply it to the wound.
3. Treat the pain
Take a pain reliever to ease the discomfort. A hot pack or immersing the wound in hot water may also help. A 2016 review published in the journal Toxins suggests heat is a more effective treatment than cold. “[R]esearch to date has shown that all marine venoms are highly heat sensitive, thus hot water or hot packs should be more effective than cold packs or ice,” study author Christie Wilcox said in a press release.
4. Watch for severe symptoms
Although a jellyfish sting can be incredibly painful, most stings don’t require a trip to the ER. Dr. Raj says that if symptoms appear under control after you’ve completed the steps above, you may not need any further treatment. But if you notice signs of an allergic reaction, or symptoms are severe—think nausea, dizziness, fever, or difficulty breathing—you should get medical attention immediately. It’s also worth seeing a doctor ASAP if the sting is near the eye.
What not to do
Don’t rinse the wound with fresh water. While it’s okay for salt water to touch the area, fresh water can actually activate jellyfish stingers. Dr. Raj warns against rubbing the wound with a towel, or splashing around in seawater, which could also activate stingers.
And no, you definitely shouldn’t reenact that famous Friends scene: Experts agree that urine doesn’t have the chemical makeup to neutralize jellyfish venom the way vinegar does.