Skip to main content
Go to homepage

Print Page

Jellyfish Stings

What Are Jellyfish Stings?

Jellyfish have been around for millions of years and live in oceans all over the world. There are many different types of jellyfish. Some just look like small, clear blobs, while others are bigger and more colorful with tentacles hanging beneath them.

Jellyfish sting their prey with their tentacles, releasing a venom that paralyzes their targets. Jellyfish don't go after humans, but someone who swims up against or touches one — or even steps on a dead one — can be stung all the same.

While jellyfish stings are painful, most are not emergencies. Expect pain, red marks, itching, numbness, or tingling with a typical sting.

But stings from some types of jellyfish — such as the box jellyfish (also called sea wasp) — are very dangerous, and can even be deadly. These jellyfish are most often found in Australia, the Philippines, the Indian Ocean, and central Pacific Ocean.

How Are Jellyfish Stings Treated?

Jellyfish stings leave thousands of very tiny stingers called nematocysts in the skin. These stingers can continue to release (or "fire") jellyfish venom (poison) into the body. Treatment can vary based on the type of jellyfish most common in the area.

Often, it's best to rinse a sting with vinegar. Vinegar is a weak acid that might keep the stingers from firing for some kinds of stings (especially from dangerous types like box jellyfish).

Do not rinse with fresh water (like tap or bottled water) because that can make more stingers fire. Rinsing a sting with seawater may prevent stingers from releasing more venom.

Also, do not scrape off any stingers still in the skin. This used to be recommended, but now is thought to make stings worse.

To deal with a sting:

  • Remove your child from the water.
  • Rinse the area with vinegar. (Keep a small plastic bottle of vinegar in your beach bag, just in case.)
  • Don't rub the area, which can make things worse.
  • Use tweezers to pluck away any tentacles still on the skin. Do not scrape the area with a credit card or other stiff card.
  • A hot (but not scalding) shower or soak may help lessen pain.
  • Check in with your health care professional to see if pain relievers might help your child feel better.

Call an ambulance right away if someone has been stung and:

  • has trouble breathing or swallowing
  • has a swollen tongue or lips, or a change in voice
  • has bad pain or feels generally unwell
  • is nauseated or vomiting
  • is dizzy or has a headache
  • has muscle spasms
  • has stings over a large part of the body
  • the sting is in the eye or mouth
  • might have been stung by a very dangerous jellyfish

Can Jellyfish Stings Be Prevented?

Beaches with lifeguards are more likely to warn visitors about jellyfish. Look for a sign or warning flag (some beaches fly a purple warning flag when there's "dangerous marine life" in the water). Double check to make sure that you've got a small container of vinegar and a pair of tweezers in your beach bag.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: 25-05-2022

Lea este articulo en Español

What next?

Summit Mall Play Area
Answer Key:
Click to expand
There are 10 nurses in the picture.

And we have many more pediatric primary care providers in Northeast Ohio. You can meet some of them here.
Summit Mall Play Area
Answer Key:
Click to expand
The five differences are:
– Phone color
– Coat pocket
– Stethoscope earpiece color
– Stethoscope bell dot
– Clipboard paper color

Need help finding a doctor, choosing a location or getting a general question about Akron Children's answered? Call us or fill out the form and we'll help in any way we can.
Summit Mall Play Area
Answer Key:
Click to expand
The two matching doctors are 9 and 14.

With virtual visits, you can see our pediatric experts from the comfort of home or wherever you are.
Summit Mall Play Area
Answer Key:
Click to expand
The correct path:
The Correct Path
We offer many ways to get pediatric care all over Northeast Ohio. Use this page to find the right kind of care and the most convenient location for you.