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As we explore this diverse environment, the risk of coming in contact with the most beautiful yet treacherous marine life, such as sea urchins and jellyfish stings increases.

The sea and the life within it have never ceased to awaken our fascination and interest. Because of the increasing dangers of the sea, treatment of sea urchin and jellyfish stings is one of the things that you should learn about before planning a day in the beach or heading to Maldives for the greatest dive of your life. Sea urchin and jellyfish stings may be common occurrences; however, in certain occasions, they can be fatal.

Sea Urchin Stings and Treatment

Sea urchins, the small, spiny bottom dwellers of the sea, use two lethal organs for defense: their sharp spines and their venomous claws called the pedicellaria. Stepping on these structures may result in puncture wounds and in some cases, severe allergic reactions. Although most sea urchins are usually non-poisonous, some species are capable of injecting potent toxins, which can be life-threatening.



For uncomplicated or simple sea urchin stings, localized signs of irritation like swelling, redness, pain and numbness area are commonly reported. However, because the spines are difficult to remove and they tend to lodge deep under the skin whenever they break off, infections, severe pain and dermatitis are common complications. With multiple and deep puncture wounds, the effects can be more fatal. The venom released by the pedicellaria into the bloodstream can cause fatigue, muscle ache, nausea and vomiting, chest pain, shock, paralysis and respiratory failure, leading to death. Widespread effects are more common with multiple and deep puncture wounds.

Immediate treatment of sea urchin stings is directed at the removal of the spines, or the stingers. For simple punctures, carefully remove the protruding or superficial stingers without breaking them off using a thick, gloved hand or by using tweezers. Do not attempt to remove them without protecting your hands. Bear in mind that the stingers are very fragile; care must be taken to prevent them from migrating into deeper tissues that may cause severe bone and joint pain. Application of ammonia solution would also be useful in dissolving small spine fragments. Neither urine nor vinegar can dissolve embedded spines, so you might want to prevent these substances when removing them.

Pedicellaria are removed by applying shaving cream to the affected area, and then, gently scraping them with a use of a razor. Clean the wounds and neutralize the toxins by washing the affected area with mild soap and warm fresh water.

Once the spines are removed, pain may continue for days. Soak the injured area in hot water, between 43.3°C to 45.0°C, or as hot as you can tolerate for 30 to 90 minutes. Repeat the procedure until the pain is reduced or alleviated.  Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) every 4 hours or ibuprofen (Advil) every 6 to 8 hours to relieve the pain.

Monitor closely for any sign of infection, such as severe swelling, heat and pus formation. If you notice any unusual sign or symptom, immediately call your physician, who may prescribe you with antibiotics to fight off the infection.

Jellyfish Stings Treatment

Jellyfish stings are possibly the most common type of marine injury worldwide. Some jellyfish species cause no more than painful stings but certain species like the box jellyfish can be extremely fatal and deadly. The tentacles of a jellyfish are composed of thousands of tiny, needle-thin filaments called nematocysts that release sticky mucus and inject small yet potent doses of venom into the bloodstream to paralyze its prey.

If you are stung, initially immobilize the affected limb. Avoid rubbing the wounds or immediately flushing the area with fresh water, alcohol or urine, as it may stimulate further firing of the venom and aggravating the pain. If shaving cream, baking soda or flour is available, apply it before removing the tentacles with the back edge of a knife. These substances have the ability to prevent further discharge of the venom and treat jellyfish stings.

Whether to flood the affected area with vinegar or not has been a much debated topic for so long. Some say that vinegar can prevent the firing of the nematocysts, while others believe that it can worsen the situation. In actuality, the effectiveness of vinegar depends on the species of the jellyfish that has stung you. If the jellyfish sting is sustained in tropical waters or if you are certain that you were stung by a box jellyfish, flood the area with household vinegar. It won’t relieve the pain but prevents the additional firing of the venom. If your eyes were exposed, it is recommended to irrigate them with tap water for 15 minutes. If vision changes occur or if the swelling and pain continue, it is best to see your physician for a more intensive jellyfish sting treatment. Shortness of breath, muscle cramps, weakness, gastrointestinal disturbance and palpitations, no matter how mild they may be, should prompt physician consultation.

For pain relief, apply ice packs or cold compressions to the affected sites. You may be prescribed with steroid creams and anesthetic creams to relieve the swelling and pain. In more complicated cases, your physician may also prescribe you with oral antihistamines and narcotics.

Prevention of Sea Urchin and Jellyfish Stings

You can have fun in the beach without worrying about sea urchin and jellyfish stings by following simple and basic ocean safety tips. It is strongly encouraged to swim in lifeguarded areas. These are the safest areas to swim. Before swimming, it is a good practice to ask the lifeguard about the beach conditions.

Have a swimming buddy with you at all times. There are various unfamiliar elements in the open water. Sea urchin and jellyfish stings are difficult to deal with if you are alone. It is always rational to have someone to help you deal with these difficult situations. 

In addition, it always pays well to wear protective clothing, such as shoes, flippers and gloves, when diving or swimming. These gears can protect you from stings of most sea urchins and related creatures. To prevent jellyfish stings, it is suggested to apply SafeSea™ before swimming. This product contains the same protective chemical found in clown fish that prevents them from getting stung. It has been clinically tested and has been found safe for human use. If you find yourself swimming with a school of jellyfish, do not panic. Tread slowly through the water until you are out of the school.

Stings are almost always unexpected but if you have the knowledge and the vigilance you can effectively prevent and manage the dangers of sea.  Treatment of sea urchin and jellyfish stings can be life-saving, so take the time to learn them by heart.  Enjoy and explore the sea more safely and responsibly.

 

  • Brown, T. (2005). Diagnosis and management of injuries from dangerous marine life. MedGenMed, 7(3), 5
  • Dorbina, B. (2008). Wilderness: Sea urchin puncture. Retrieved on July 1, 2010 from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/wilderness_sea_urchin_puncture/page7_em.htm
  • Gallagher, S. (2010) . Echinoderm Envenomation. Retrieved June 30, 2010, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/770053-overview
  • Page R. & Page, C. (2005). Yucatan: Healthy traveler’s handbook. Tempe, AZ: MedToGo
  • Thomas C. & Scott S. (1997). All stings considered: First aid and medical treatment of Hawai’i’s marine injuries. Honolulu, Hawai’i: University of Hawai’i Press
  • Photo courtesy of Lisa Brewster by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/sophistechate/2954636486/

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