Treating sea creature stings
You can treat some stings yourself using first aid. But if the symptoms are serious – such as severe pain, swelling or difficulty breathing – dial 999 to request an ambulance immediately.
Read more about symptoms of marine creature stings, including advice about when to seek hospital treatment.
If you're stung by a weever fish, it's important to get first aid and medical attention immediately.
To control the pain, the affected area should be immersed in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated) for 30-90 minutes. However, be careful not to burn your skin. This can be repeated if necessary.
You can use simple painkillers such as paracetamol to relieve any remaining pain.
Any large spines should be carefully removed from the wound using tweezers (avoid touching the spines with your bare hands). Clean the wound using soap and water, and then rinse it with fresh water. Don't cover the wound.
Spines embedded in or near joints or tendons should be assessed in A&E. X-rays may be required and the spines may need to be surgically removed.
A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) needs to be treated in hospital immediately.
Anti-tetanus prophylaxis (an injection) may be needed if you or the affected person isn't fully vaccinated.
If there's itching, hydrocortisone cream can be applied up to two to three times a day. However, this should be stopped immediately if there are any signs of infection, such as severe inflammation and redness.
Pain and inflammation can also be treated with painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
If an infection develops, a course of antibiotics may be prescribed. They should be taken for a minimum of five days after the signs of infection have disappeared.
Sea urchin puncture wounds and stings are treated in a similar way to weever fish stings. If there are signs that you or someone you're with has had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), dial 999 to request an ambulance.
Immerse the affected area in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated) for 30-90 minutes. Again, be careful not to burn your skin.
Any large spines should be carefully removed from the wound using tweezers. The small venomous organs (pedicellariae) can be removed by using a razor blade to gently scrape them out. It may help to apply a small amount of shaving foam to the area first.
Scrub the wound using soap and water, and then rinse it with fresh water. Don't close the wound with tape.
Pain and swelling can be treated with painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
If the skin is red and badly inflamed, a topical antibiotic cream or ointment should be applied three times a day.
Alert a lifeguard and dial 999 to request an ambulance if you're stung by a stingray.
There's no antidote to stingray venom, but the pain caused by a sting can be relieved by:
- immersing the affected area in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated) for 30-90 minutes
- pain-numbing medication (local anaesthetic)
- pain-relieving medication given directly through a vein (intravenously)
Once the wound has been cleaned and the sting is removed (if necessary), the doctor will be able to look for further damage. You may need a tetanus booster if it's more than five years since your last tetanus injection.
After being stung by a stingray, you'll usually be given antibiotics, as there's a high risk of the wound being contaminated by bacteria in the sting and the seawater, which could lead to an infection.
The wound will initially be left open, before being closed with stitches after about 48 hours, if it hasn't become infected. In rare cases, surgery may be needed if the sting affects the tendons or blood vessels.
Most jellyfish stings are mild and don't require treatment, or you can treat them yourself.
However, dial 999 if there are severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, or if a large or sensitive area of the body such as the face or genitals has been stung.
Someone stung by a jellyfish should be treated out of the water.
Any remaining tentacles should be removed using tweezers or a clean stick (wear gloves if they're available). Applying an ice pack to the affected area helps to reduce pain and inflammation.
Vinegar is no longer recommended for treating jellyfish stings, because it may make things worse, by activating unfired stinging cells. The use of other substances, such as alcohol and baking soda, should also be avoided.
Ignore any advice you may have heard about urinating on the sting. It's unlikely to help and may make the situation worse.
Use a razor blade, credit card or shell to remove any nematocysts (small poisonous sacs) that are stuck to the skin. It may help to apply a small amount of shaving cream to the affected area first.
After a jellyfish sting, any pain and swelling can be treated with painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Portuguese man-of-war stings can be treated in a similar way to jellyfish stings (see above).
As with jellyfish stings, don't use vinegar or alcohol to wash the affected area, as it can make the pain worse.
Instead, after carefully removing any remaining tentacles from the skin (see above), thoroughly wash the affected area with seawater (not fresh water). Afterwards, soak the area in hot water to ease the pain.
Pain from a Portuguese man-of-war sting usually lasts about 15-20 minutes. Seek immediate medical assistance if you experience severe, lasting pain, or if the affected area becomes infected.
Page last reviewed: 05/05/2015
Next review due: 05/05/2017