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How to treat a box jellyfish sting for you or your child

The sting from a box jellyfish can be dangerous and cause excruciating pain.
The sting from a box jellyfish can be dangerous and cause excruciating pain.
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In the past few days, over 700 box jellyfish have washed onto Oahu's south shore, making it important to know how to treat a jellyfish sting in case you or your child get stung.

When a box jellyfish stings, a tentacle adheres to skin, and pumps nematocysts with venom into the skin, causing the stinging sensation and agonizing pain. A local site devoted to tracking jellyfish in Hawaii, 808 Jellyfish, lists the following remedies for both preventing the firing of any undischarged nematocysts remaining on the skin and for relieving the pain from a sting:

To prevent more stinging, immediately flood the area with household vinegar (a good thing to have in a first aid kit for a day at the beach). After applying vinegar, pluck off any tentacles with a stick or other tool. Never rub an affected area. Exposed eyes should be irrigated with water for 15 minutes (if vision blurs or the eyes continue to tear, hurt, swell, or are light sensitive after irrigating, you should see a doctor).

For pain relief, ice packs should be used (there are no studies support the application of heat for pain relief).

Many people suggest the use of urine or alcohol as nematocyst remedies, but both can be harmful. One study reports that both alcohol and urine caused massive discharge of box jellyfish nematocysts.

Few box jellyfish cause life-threatening reactions. However, some people are more sensitive than others and some people may be allergic. If the victim has shortness of breath, weakness, muscle cramps, palpitations or any other generalized symptoms, immediately call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room.

    For more information: To learn more about box jellyfish and their stings, click here.


  • Jen 5 years ago

    Thanks for the info. I'm going to add a small container of vinegar to our beach pack.
    Love reading your articles.

  • Alexis 5 years ago

    Very good info. My boys are terrified of jellyfish....we will be packing vinegar from now one. Thanks for the story.

  • Ron 5 years ago

    Product on the market for jellyfish stings called StingMate...proven effective...5% acetic acid (vinegar on steroids ;-) ) Safe, convenient and effective..available at retailers or on line at works!!

  • Leah 1 year ago

    I realise this is an old article, but in case someone is looking up how to treat a box jellyfish sting (like I was) I need to say - "Few box jellyfish cause life-threatening reactions" is a very dangerous statement. While statistically that's probably true, it gives a misleading impression as to the danger of box jellyfish. Instead of saying "if the victim has X symptoms, call 911" I would say do NOT wait to see what symptoms they have before calling 911. I grew up in northern Australia where box jellyfish are a yearly event. Our beaches are closed to swimming from November - May every year (we have special stinger nets put out for people to swim in). Many city councils keep their beaches stocked with vinegar, because box jellyfish are *dangerous*. If a big enough area is stung, you will die without medical attention. You do not need to have an allergy. This is *especially* true for children. If you are only brushed by one or two tentacles then yes you probably won't need medical attention. But this is not normally how it happens. Normally you walk through their tentacles or they swim past you, and you get a large number of tentacles across your legs, or if you're swimming, across your arms and chest. You will need medical attention, even if only for the extreme pain. Much better to be safe than sorry. Calling emergency should be the first thing you do after administering vinegar.

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