The summer season brings with it images of the three S: sea, sun, and sand. The season depends on which part of the world you are in, with the Western side gravitating mostly to June-September. Regardless of when it starts though, almost everyone will agree that summer is wasted if you don’t spend a day of it at the beach. Nothing really shouts summer than soaking up on the shore with the cool seawater lapping up your feet and the heat of the midday sun striking at you, giving you that nice tan you always wanted.
That is not to say, however, that the beach is all fun. There are still inherent dangers if you’re not careful where you go. Since many people to walk along the shore barefoot, there is always the danger of stepping on broken shells or sharp objects that may have been washed up on the shore. Even in the waters, it always pays to be careful. Aside from sharp corals that can easily rip apart even the most calloused sole, there are other, more hidden, dangers of being in the waters: jellyfish.
Contrary to their name, jellyfish are not fish. They are invertebrates of the Phylum Cnidaria, most easily identified by their characteristic bell-shaped body from which tentacles suspend. Jellyfish bodies are mostly transparent and jelly-like, hence their name. They come in different sizes, with some species being as small as three millimeters, to some going to a monstrous 3 meters in diameter. Jellyfish have been in existence for millions of years and are found in all oceans of the world. Some can even be found in freshwater lakes and rivers.
Jellyfish does not have brains and it is this complete lack of the organ that makes them sting you even without provocation, if you ever get in direct contact with them. If you have never been stung by a jellyfish before, then consider yourself lucky and pray that your luck holds; most jellyfish stings are very painful and some can even be quite deadly.
A jellyfish tentacle is covered with stinging cells called nematocysts that they use to secure prey or as a defense mechanism. The severity of a jellyfish’s sting will depend on what kind of jellyfish it is. The Portuguese man-of-war is particularly more painful than a normal jellyfish sting. Some people describes it as feeling like you have been struck by a thunderbolt; so far there have been two deaths attributed to it. Stings from the box jellyfish, however, are the most dangerous. Those found in Australia have a venom so deadly that it may cause cardiovascular collapse as well as respiratory and neuromuscular paralysis that will kill you in a matter of minutes. The only counter to this is an antivenom that reverses the effects of the poison.
Symptoms of a Jellyfish Sting
Since jellyfish are mostly transparent in the water, you won’t know you’re already encroaching on its personal space until after you’ve been stung. You will know immediately that you’ve been stung because of the following symptoms:
- intense, stinging pain
- itchy rash
- raised welts
- nausea and vomiting
- lymph node swelling
- muscle spasms
Much more severe reactions can cause anaphylactic shock to the victim, resulting in a difficulty in breathing, coma, or even death.
Getting Rid of Jellyfish Sting
Since some of these stings can be very deadly, especially if you’re allergic to the toxins the jellyfish gives, it is imperative that you seek medical aid as soon as possible. While waiting for the medical team to arrive, you can do some steps to help alleviate the symptoms. Here are some things you have to do when you or someone else is stung by a jellyfish.
- Remove any remaining tentacles right away. Even if you’ve killed or removed the jellyfish shortly after stinging you, any remaining tentacles will still be capable of stinging you or anyone else for a considerable period of time. Make sure that you remove all the tentacles so you won’t have to deal with more stings later. Remember to wear gloves or use tweezers.
- Flood the affected area with vinegar. Household vinegar (with 5% acetic acid) will inactivate any stingers that are left in the skin and help lessen the symptoms of the sting. If you don’t have vinegar available at hand, use sea water, 70% isopropyl alcohol, or any commercial jellyfish sting relievers. Don’t use fresh water; they will cause the nematocysts to continue giving out toxins. Do not rub the area, apply ice, or hot water either.
- Shave the area with razor, knife edge, or credit. Apply some shaving cream on the affected area and then shave it off to remove any nematocysts still adhering to the skin. The cream will help prevent the release of toxin during the shaving. Reapply alcohol or vinegar.
- Wrap the area above and below the sting with a light bandage. Doing so will help slow down the spread of toxins. However, be careful that you do not stop the flow of blood on the limbs; the fingers and toes should always show a healthy pink color.
- Take pain relievers. To relieve the pain, take acetaminophen (1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours of pain) or ibuprofen (every 8 hours of pain).
Always seek medical help right away if the jellyfish stung you in the mouth, face, genital areas, or other sensitive parts of the body, regardless of what type of jellyfish it was. If you have to swim in suspicious waters, make sure you wear bodysuits in order to protect yourself from the stings. It is always better to prevent it from happening in the first place.
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