Vinegar can be used to Neutralise Jellyfish’s Sting?


This is the final of three series of features on the danger jellyfish pose to swimmers.

KUALA LUMPUR: “One moment you are laughing and playing in the water and the next, you are maybe screaming in agony as your legs suddenly feel as if these are on fire.

“Actually, you’ve just been stung by a jellyfish,” explained a veteran scuba diver Steven Martyn when met at a hospital here.

What should the victim do?

Martyn said there are several measures that a victim of jellyfish sting can do and the first very important aspect is not to panic.



He said once stung, the first impulse of the victim is to immediately start wiping away the jellyfish’s tentacles and rub the affected area.

“This may only trigger unfired nematocysts attached to the skin and inject more venom,” said Martyn.

According to a recent eMedicine article on the Internet, the venom of many jellyfish species is complex and largely unknown.

Medical experts say a jellyfish sting can elicit one of three types of responses to the injected toxin.

“An immediate allergic reaction, a delayed allergic reaction, or a toxic reaction,” they say.



Martyn, who has a Master’s in Marine Biology, said first responders to a jellyfish sting victim should first protect themselves and the victim from further injury by inactivating the remaining nematocysts.

This can be accomplished by using a 4-6 per cent solution of acetic acid or household vinegar for a minimum of 30 seconds.

“Soaking for 30 minutes is recommended. Alternative solutions can be Coca-cola, old wine, or hot water.

“Do not use alcohol, liquor, urine or fresh water as claimed by some parties,” he said.

Once the nematocysts have been inactivated with vinegar, the attached tentacles can be removed.

“It is best to remove the tentacles with tweezers as live nematocysts can sting through surgical gloves,” Martyn said, issuing a word of caution.

Check for signs of anaphylaxis such as difficulty in breathing and swallowing, swelling, or severe pain, and seek immediate medical attention.



Stings by the box jellyfish species are very painful and anti-venom injection may be required.

According to the medical fraternity, pain management will be a top priority with jellyfish sting victims.

Toxins can kill localized skin cells and can release systemic toxins.

Experts say victims will want relief from both.

“Using a cold compress over the sting area will help in many cases while a hot pack may help with severe pain,” they say.

According to eMedicine, “Topical anesthetics and corticosteroids may also relieve pain.”

Systemic body pains that are caused by the toxins can be treated with painkillers acetaminophen and Ibuprofen. Anti-histamines may also prove useful.

Wounds caused by stings should be monitored for several weeks to check for infections or delayed allergic reaction. Localized skin damage and scarring may occur.

Most diving safety organizations recommend vinegar as immediate first aide for a jellyfish sting.

Vinegar, which neutralizes a jellyfish’s stinging cells, has two primary benefits – to minimize pain and discomfort, and to stop the delivery of jellyfish venom.

Martyn said when stung by a jellyfish with exceptionally toxic venom, such as a Box Jellyfish, the immediate application of vinegar to neutralize stinging cells and prevent more venom from entering a diver’s body may be the difference between life and death.

He also said vinegar should be in every dive boat’s first aid kit.

“If vinegar is not available, a paste of baking soda may be used to neutralize sting cells. Salt water may be used as an additional rinsing agent if necessary.

“In no circumstances should fresh water be applied to a jellyfish sting as fresh water may cause additional stinging cells to fire,” he said.

According to Martyn, urinating on jellyfish stings is not recommended to neutralize the jellyfish venom.

Doctors recommend hydrocortisone cream to be applied topically to the stung area.

They say the victim of a jellyfish sting should be monitored carefully for signs of shock, difficulty in breathing, nausea, and other signs of severe allergic reactions.

If any allergic reaction is suspected, be sure to contact a doctor immediately. – BERNAMA

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