Jellyfish and other sea creature stings

Treatment

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.

Weever fish

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 to 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.

An anti-tetanus injection may be needed if you or the affected person isn't fully vaccinated.

Aftercare

If there's itching, hydrocortisone cream can be applied 2 to 3 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 5 days after the signs of infection have disappeared.

Sea urchins

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 to 90 minutes. 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 gently scraping them out using a razor blade. 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.

Aftercare

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 3 times a day.

Stingrays

Alert a lifeguard and dial 999 to request an ambulance if you or someone you're with is stung by a stingray.

There's no antidote to stingray venom, but the pain can be relieved by:

  • immersing the affected area in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated) for 30 to 90 minutes
  • pain-numbing medication (local anaesthetic
  • pain-relieving medication given directly into 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 5 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.

Jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war stings

Most stings from jellyfish in UK waters are mild and don't require treatment, or you can treat them yourself.

But 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.

Get the person out of the water, taking care not to get stung yourself.

Then use seawater (not fresh water) to rinse away any stinging cells from the jellyfish that may be clinging to the skin.

Don't apply ice or a cold pack to the affected area – it may make the pain worse. Don't use vinegar either because it can cause any remaining stinging cells from the jellyfish to release more stings.

Also, ignore any advice you've heard about urinating on the sting. It's unlikely to help.

As soon as possible, immerse the affected area in hot water (as hot as the person can bear) for 30 to 90 minutes to ease the pain and reduce swelling.

If the pain returns, you can continue immersing in hot water for up to 2 hours after being stung. Hot flannels or towels can be used if immersion isn't possible.

Painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, can be taken to help relieve the pain.

Page last reviewed: 05/05/2015
Next review due: 01/05/2018