In North America, most marine animal bites and stings aren’t deadly, but some may cause a deep wound or severe allergic reaction. You’re most likely to come in contact with biting or stinging marine life—including jellyfish, sculpins, and stingrays—when you’re swimming or wading. These animals don’t attack you, but may sting if they’re stepped on or touched. Even dead jellyfish can sometimes release venom (poison) when handled.
Immediately after a bite or sting:
- Remain calm and get out of the water safely.
- Contrary to popular belief, urine is not the best treatment for a jellyfish sting.1 Wash the affected area with saltwater to deactivate the stingers; DO NOT use freshwater, as this can cause more toxins to be released. Vinegar can also help relieve the pain of some jellyfish stings.
- DO NOT use your bare hands to remove a stinger. Remove any stingers you see by wiping with a towel.
- DO NOT raise the stung body part above the level of your heart.
- DO NOT take any medication unless told to by a health care provider.
When to go to the Emergency Department (ED):
Not all marine animal stings need urgent care. But you should seek emergency treatment if any of the following is true:
- You don’t know what type of sting you have.
- You have a history of allergic reactions.
- You are stung on the face or neck.
- You have trouble breathing.
What to expect at the ED:
- Your injury will be cleaned and examined.
- A jellyfish sting may be rinsed with saline (salt) solution or vinegar. This prevents more toxins from being released. Any tentacles left in your skin will be removed.
- If your reaction is severe, you may be given a steroid medication to help control it.
- If you are in pain, medication may be prescribed to make you more comfortable.
- See your primary health care provider if:
- The wound isn’t healing
- You have signs of infection (redness, pain, discharge, or fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher)
- Seek emergency care if you have signs of an allergic reaction (this can occur up to a month after a jellyfish sting):
- Swelling of the affected body part, hands, head, face, or tongue
- Trouble breathing