Everybody knows the remedy for jellyfish stings is to pee on them… right? Turns out, if anything, peeing on them will only make them worse.
Bluebottles are always floating around our waters, or decorating our tidelines, but this year it seems there are more than usual, with one New Plymouth local saying there were “millions” last week on East End Beach. Though having wildlife is nice, there’s no doubt more than a few of us will end up tangled in their tentacles. And, in pain, we may reach for a well-known remedy – piss.
Mel B did it (to Bear Grylls), Nicole Kidman did it (to Zac Efron), Chandler did it (to Monica). but that doesn’t mean you should do it too. It’s hard to trace where the misconception that piss relieves jellyfish stings originated, but it’s probably got something to do with ammonia and urea. The (incorrect) logic is that pee, with its slightly basic pH, is kind of like seawater, and so a good liquid to rinse off the tentacles and venom. The record has been set straight by scientists countless times, but the public consciousness seems more convinced by the celebrity endorsements.
This wouldn’t be so bad, apart from that pissing on a jellyfish sting could actually make it worse. Unless you are severely dehydrated, your pee is more like freshwater than seawater, and causes more venom to be released. In other words: more pee, more pain.
If not piss, then what?
Well the sea is right there. I know it’s where the jellyfish are, but it’s your best bet to rinse the sting. Make sure you flush away any bits of tentacles still hanging on. If they’re really clingy, resist scraping them off, instead quickly pluck them off with fingers, tweezers or a dry towel.
Dr Gary Payinda, Surf Lifesaving medical director, last week appeared the radio and X to advise us what to do next – immerse the sting in hot water for 20 minutes. “The hotter the better,” he wrote. “Just not hot enough to burn the skin!” His advice, which echoes Te Whatu Ora, promises relief in just a few minutes.
In Aotearoa we’re most likely to get stung by ihumoana bluebottles, which, strictly speaking, aren’t jellyfish. They’re not even a singular organism – each bluebottle is actually a colony of genetically identical animals. If not a bluebottle, then the other possible culprits are lion’s-mane jellyfish, a tulle-like mass of pink and clear tendrils up to a meter in width, or mauve stingers, little clear jellyfish speckled with purple. No matter which stings you, keep away from piss and make your way to hot water.
What if my throat feels funny?
It’s very rare, but if your throat, tongue or lips are swelling, or you’re having trouble breathing, you could be having a severe allergic reaction – anaphylaxis. If you have an epipen, great. If not, call 111 asap. You will need a shot of adrenaline (exciting).
It still hurts 🙁
Easy – immerse the sting in hot water again, and take some paracetamol or antihistamines.
Love the stinger, hate the sting
Last year scientists looked very, very closely inside the chromosomes of jellyfish and sponges and came to the conclusion that a jellyfish was the first animal to live on Earth, around-about 700 million years ago. This persistence to keep living as soft bodied, waterborne, brainless masses deserves our respect. Try not to hate them for stinging you.