Health & Wellbeing

Heat the best option for treating jellyfish stings

Heat the best option for treating jellyfish stings
Researchers have found that hot-water immersion is the key to reducing pain from jellyfish stings
Researchers have found that hot-water immersion is the key to reducing pain from jellyfish stings
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Researchers have found that hot-water immersion is the key to reducing pain from jellyfish stings
Researchers have found that hot-water immersion is the key to reducing pain from jellyfish stings

They may look innocuous, but jellyfish can pack a serious sting. And with some species benefitting from oceans warming due to climate change, the number of swimmers getting a nasty surprise in the water is likely to rise. There has long been a debate whether it's best to treat jellyfish stings with heat or cold, and now a team from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa claims to have reached a definitive answer.

For their study, the researchers trawled through the databases of major scientific journal article databases to find every study examining the effects of using temperature-based treatments for jellyfish stings to date. After combing through more than 2,000 related articles, they discovered that the vast majority of evidence came out on the side of hot-water immersion.

"People think ice will help because jelly stings burn and ice is cold," said Christie Wilcox, lead author of the paper. "And if you Google it, many sites – even those considered reputable – will tell you to put ice on a sting to dull the pain. But research to date has shown that all marine venoms are highly heat sensitive, thus hot water or hot packs should be more effective than cold packs or ice."

Before you start thinking this may lend some credence to the old myth that urinating on a jellyfish sting is a good idea, the water needs to be warmer than the 36° C (96° F) that urine leaves the body at to have a beneficial effect – specifically about 45° C (113° F). The researchers say this is in keeping with research that has shown marine venom components are inactivated at temperatures between 40 and 50°C (104 and 122° F).

Not only did the researchers find that hot-water immersion was the key to reducing pain from jellyfish stings, but that it was associated with improved clinical outcomes. Additionally, no studies reported cases of hot-water immersion leading to worse symptoms or poorer clinical outcomes.

"I was shocked that the science was so clear, given that there is so much debate over the use of hot water," says Wilcox. "It's simple, really: if you're stung, use hot water or hot packs rather than ice or cold packs."

The researchers hope their findings will be taken on board by first responders and public health decision makers who may have been swayed by "authoritative web articles" giving bad advice on the best way to treat jellyfish stings.

Their study appears in the journal Toxins.

Source: University of Hawai'i

Why not try the real Finnish sauna (please pronounce as fauna) wherein the temperature of 80 to 100 degrees centigrade and additionally throwing hot water on hot rocks of the sauna stove readily cures itching from mosquito bites in Lappland (Northern Finland). Should also work on jellyfish sting pain.
Awesome!!! I will have to remember this. I've never been stung but I've discovered myself by jellyfish a few times.
How hot, painfully hot? Hot tub hot?
An inexpensive and reasonably convenient option for beach-goers would be to carry a solar shower device to the beach, filled and ready to heat in the sun. It took moments to find one for under US$15 on eBay. In short order, the black plastic bag will reach useful temperatures. If not needed for yourself or another inflicted beach-goer, it's a convenient way to wash off the ocean as you leave.
Works for Portuguese man of war stings, too. "Mo' Hotta, Mo' Betta!"
Whoa there, 100 degrees Centigrade is 212 degrees Fahrenheit! My sauna won't get that hot - thank goodness. The biggest problem I see for myself is that a jellyfish sting would likely happen while in the tropics snorkeling . . . and there aren't many saunas available there. :-) But I'll remember HOT packs as a treatment if the jellyfish sting happens.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Hot water feels jus as good as scratching on poison ivy and doesn't cause bleeding.
This seems like old news. For some time now, it has been known that insect stings (venom) are thermolabile, meaning they break down with heat. In fact there is commercial product based on this. My wife and I have been using a device called Therapik to treat wasp stings for at least 10 years now. I just checked their website
and found that they list a variety of venoms that can be treated with heat - including jellyfish. As for the methods employed to determine whether hot or cold is best, it might have made more sense to obtain samples of the venom and see if they break down when heated or cooled.
Instead of all these ideas about solar showers (not useful on cloudy days) and saunas (not too many saunas around the beach and besides which, hot, steamy air doesn't have anywhere near the heat content of hot water), you could just carry one or more of the chemical hand warmers if you expect to be in waters that may have jellyfish. Either the iron/air hand warmers or the reusable sodium acetate hand warmers should be able to quickly reach the temperatures stated in the article.
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