Myths and facts about jellyfish stings

The famous line uttered by Joe from Friends echoes down through jelly lore:

But is that really all it takes?  Does urine really help with a jellyfish sting? From first hand experience I can tell you pee don’t do much, which is why I was thrilled to find a paper all about pee, meat tenderizer and other urban legends of the jellyfish sting world.

Jellyfish contain thousands of stinging cells on their tentacles, termed nematocytes (or cnidocytes). These cells each fire a long barb on contact, which injects venome into skin like a hypodermic needle.  And believe me, these things are no joke:

But during a jelly sting, many of these cells get stuck on human skin unfired.  According to jelly sting rumors, sting treatments like vinegar, urin and meat tenderizer break up these cells before they have a chance to inject their toxin.

In this study [1] two brave scientists willingly exposed themselves to sea wasps (Chiropsalmus quadrumanus) and Atlantic stinging nettles (Chrysaora quinquecirrha).  For 20 days straight each authors placed a tentacle on their inner arm, followed by a particular treatment, and then rated the pain.  Surprisingly, many of the most common treatments, like vinegar,  alcohol and ammonia  actually made the pain * worse*, not better. Pee, distilled water and meat tenderizer had no effect (as an aside:  how awesome is it that these authors stung themselves and doused the sting with pee ALL FOR SCIENCE!). So, what did work? Pain killers. Doh.  After all this magic-potion-vinegar-pee brouhaha, it turns out that regular o’ lidocaine really is the way to go. But lidocaine doesn’t just make the pain go away, it actually prevents the undischarged stinging cells from firing. Other methods like vinegar and meat tenderizer can then be used to remove the cells (on their own, vinegar, alcohol, ammonia and meat tenderizer actually cause massive discharge of thousands of stinging cells, rather than breaking them down).

And as for Monica, how did she fare? I choose to believe they’re all happy and subdued after a healthy dose of lidocaine and a rescued day at the beach. (or is that perhaps shame after reading this post?)

Work cited

[1] Evaluation of the effects of various chemicals on discharge of and pain caused by jellyfish nematocysts

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1532045610000098#



Categories: Anatomy, Most Popular

Tags: , , , , , , ,

5 replies

Trackbacks

  1. Mauve stinger jelly, up close and personal | JellyBiologist
  2. Pacific sea nettles have arrived in Monterey, California | JellyBiologist
  3. Stung by a box jelly? Oil and lemon may help. | Deep Sea News
  4. Stung by a box jelly? Oil and lemon may help. | JellyBiologist
  5. Stung by a box jelly? Oil and lemon may help. – Deep-Sea News |

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