Today: Does urine ease the pain from a jellyfish sting?
The Frightful Jellyfish Sting
When Monica from the popular nineties sitcom Friends got stung by a jellyfish during a trip to the beach, Joey had a solution. “There really is only one thing you can do…You’re gonna have to pee on it,” he said to her horror, noting that he learned about the method by watching the Discovery Channel. Chandler added that the ammonia in urine helps kill the pain. In the end, Chandler was coaxed into doing the deed because Monica couldn’t “bend that way” and Joey got stage fright. But did they do the right thing?
Don’t believe everything you see on TV. In reality, peeing on a jellyfish sting does not stop the pain and may actually cause the sea creature’s nematocysts to inject even more venom into its victim.
“It can cause massive stinging,” according to venom expert Christie Wilcox from the University of Hawaii who has co-authored two papers on jellyfish sting treatment.
Jellyfish swim in oceans all over the world and have existed for millions of years. Their tentacles contain thousands of small stingers called nematocysts, which are used to catch prey or for self-defense. These specialized cells can be painful to anyone or anything that comes into contact with them.
Most jellyfish stings are not deadly. They may cause numbness, burning, itching, and tingling and leave a red mark on the skin. The exception is the box jellyfish, which can be very dangerous and potentially fatal to unsuspecting victims. These jellies live in Australia, the Philippines, the Indian Ocean, and the central Pacific Ocean.
It’s not uncommon for a swimmer to get stung without even realizing it, and the pain is immediate. It’s inadvisable to itch or rub the affected area because additional venom may be released into the skin. Depending on the type of jellyfish, the pain should subsist within 24 hours.
So, what should you do if you get stung by a jellyfish? Experts recommend treating it by immediately washing the skin in vinegar to stop the nematocysts from discharging more venom. Rinsing the sting in freshwater will actually intensify the pain because it disturbs the balance of salts in the stingers. Applying urine to the skin is not a good solution because while it does contain salts and electrolytes, the concentration varies from person to person and may cause the stingers to fire even more.
After rinsing the skin, the nematocysts are deactivated. Any tentacles left on the skin should be removed with tweezers, not scraped off with an object such as a credit card. Heat should then be applied to the area.
By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com