Should You Pee on a Jellyfish Sting? 

An emergency medicine specialist explains
Jellyfish sting on back of leg

Q: Should you pee on a jellyfish sting?

A: No. Despite what you may have heard, the idea of peeing on a jellyfish sting to ease the pain is just a myth. Not only are there no studies to support this idea, but pee may even worsen the sting.

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Jellyfish tentacles have stinging cells called nematocysts that contain venom. Coming into contact with a jellyfish, be it in the water or on a beach, results in the activation of these stingers. Peeing on the sting could actually cause these cells to release even more venom.

The stings are painful enough on their own and are usually accompanied by itching, some swelling and maybe even a rash. Anything you can do to mitigate those symptoms is best.

So how do you manage a jellyfish sting, then? If do you get stung by a jellyfish, remove the tentacles right away. You can use seawater to wash off the tentacles, but avoid any vigorous rubbing because this can cause the jellyfish’s nematocysts to fire, which means the barbed part of the tentacles would release more toxin into your skin. 

One important note, though: use only seawater on the affected area while you remove the barbs. Do not use fresh water, such as bottled water or from a faucet, as that can cause the nematocysts to activate and worsen the sting. 

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If you see any barbs still in your skin, use tweezers to carefully remove them. If you don’t have tweezers on-hand, you can gently scrape the area with a credit card or similarly-shaped plastic object.

Once you remove the tentacle, treat the pain by applying apple vinegar or rubbing alcohol to the affected area. This can also help release the toxin. 

Immersing the area in hot water is another option (only after all the barbs have been removed), placing the affected area in a hot bath or under a hot shower for twenty minutes. The water temperature should be 104 to 113°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, use the hottest water temperature you can tolerate on an unaffected area. If you are treating a young child, always test the water temperature first.

To treat the pain, you also can apply acetic acid (which is found in vinegar), calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Additionally, an ice pack could help reduce swelling. 

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While unpleasant, most jellyfish stings don’t require attention from a doctor but keep an eye on your symptoms. If any of the following occur, you should seek medical help.

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Chest pain.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Skin blistering.
  • Numbness or tingling.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Worsening redness, rash or pain if a sting gets infected.

Your healthcare provider may also have other options for pain and itching relief in the event of more severe reactions. 

— Emergency medicine specialist Thomas Waters, MD

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