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Jellyfish sting


Disease: Jellyfish sting Jellyfish sting
Category: Other Diseases

Disease Definition:

Jellyfish stings are a common problem to divers and swimmers. Jellyfish are found in all of the world's oceans with trailing tentacles that contain thousands of tiny barbed stingers; their stings could range from mild to severe. Some jellyfish are harmless to humans, while others are very poisonous and even the smallest stings could cause severe pain and irritation. Even though some types of jellyfish stings could be more severe and require medical treatment, but others could get better with home treatment. In some rare cases, certain species of jellyfish, or jellyfish stings that are widespread could be life-threatening.

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Symptoms, Causes


Jellyfish stings could cause:


  • Immediate burning pain
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Throbbing pain that could radiate up a leg or arm to the torso
  • Blisters
  • Itching
  • Painful red marks or lines that develop after several minutes to several hours.


In a week or two, mild to moderate skin irritation usually improves, and sometimes, the marks on the skin could go away after one to two months.


Not just the skin, but the whole body could be affected by severe jellyfish stings (systemic reaction). With widespread stings, severe symptoms could occur, which are most common in older adults and children. Some of the signs and symptoms of severe jellyfish stings may include:


  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble controlling muscle movement
  • Muscle spasms
  • Dizziness


Most jellyfish stings are minor, despite the fact that they're painful, and get better with home treatment, such as ice packs and skin cream. But in some cases, jellyfish stings could be more serious and even life-threatening.


A person should seek emergency treatment in case:


  • Large areas of the skin are covered with stings
  • He/she experiences symptoms of a severe reaction, such as feeling weak, difficulty breathing, feeling sick or tightening of the airways or throat.


There are tiny, poisonous barbs in the tentacles of jellyfish, which are released when they come in contact with something. These nematocysts, which are the poisonous barbs, are used by the jellyfish to immobilize their prey, such as small fish. The nematocysts will inject poison into the surface of a person's skin in case he/she brushes against jellyfish tentacles.


There are some jellyfish that are harmless, and some that cause painful stings. However, there are certain types of jellyfish that are very poisonous and cause severe stings. Some of the types of jellyfish that can cause painful or severe stings are:

The box jellyfish:

The box jellyfish is one of the world's most poisonous creatures. Also known as the sea wasp, it is found in the world's warmer oceans. The tiny Irukandji is found on the east coast of Australia, and is a particularly dangerous type of box jellyfish. Its sting could cause excruciating pain and Irukandji syndrome, which is a severe, life-threatening reaction.

The Portuguese man-of-war:

Because this jellyfish has a distinctive purple bubble on its top that acts as a snail, it is also called a bluebottle jellyfish. This jellyfish is found in Hawaii, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the east and west coasts of North America.

The lion's mane:

This jellyfish could reach a diameter of 2.4 meters (8 feet); it is the world's largest jellyfish and is usually found in the cooler, northern regions of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The sea nettle:

This jellyfish is common off the Atlantic coast of the United States, and its color is usually brown or red. Sea nettles are common in the Chesapeake Bay and are usually found in large groups or washed up on shore.



Jellyfish stings usually don't cause any complications and get better within a few weeks. But in some rare cases, jellyfish stings could cause:


  • A life-threatening reaction caused by a large number of stings
  • Infection
  • Scarring


Home remedies could treat most jellyfish stings. The steps that you should take are:

Deactivate the stingers:

To remove the remaining tentacles, the sting area should be washed off immediately with seawater. Because using fresh water could cause more stings to occur, the person should make sure to use seawater. Then, to neutralize stingers still on the skin, he/she should rinse the sting area with vinegar. However, in the case of Chesapeake Bay sea nettle stings, vinegar shouldn’t be used. 

Remove any remaining stingers:

By applying shaving cream or a paste of seawater and baking soda or sea water and talcum powder to the sting area, the leftover stingers should be removed. When it dries, the stingers could be scraped off. 

Relieve pain:

To help with pain and itching, a person could use ice and over-the-counter skin creams, such as calamine lotion. Yet another thing that could help is rinsing or soaking the sting area with hot water.


Home remedies may not  be enough in the case of severe stings, and medical attention or emergency treatment may be needed, such as:


In case a person has been stung by a box jellyfish, to counter the effects of the jellyfish poison in his/her system, an immediate dose of antivenom is needed.


In some very rare cases, immediate CPR may be needed if severe and widespread jellyfish stings cause heart failure (cardiac arrest).

Pain control:

Mostly, skin creams can treat the pain that is caused by bad jellyfish stings. However, someone may need intravenous or injected pain medications or other medications in case the pain is severe or if he/she is having muscle spasms.

Life support:

The first priority in emergency treatment will be stabilizing the person’s breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and other vital functions, in case he/she has a serious reaction that doesn't only affect the skin, but the bodily functions (systemic reaction).


A person will have to stay in the hospital for at least 6 to 8 hours in case they end up needing emergency treatment for a systemic reaction caused by severe jellyfish stings.


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