First Aid For Portuguese Man-Of-War Jellyfish Stings
- Pick off any visible tentacles with a gloved hand, stick, or anything handy, being careful to avoid further injury.
- Rinse the sting thoroughly with salt or fresh water to remove any adhering tentacles.
- Apply ice for pain control.
- Irrigate exposed eyes with copious amounts of room temperature tap water for at least 15 minutes. If vision blurs, or the eyes continue to tear, hurt, swell, or are light sensitive after irrigating, see a doctor.
- For persistent itching or skin rash, try 1 percent hydrocortisone ointment four times a day, and one or two 25 milligram diphenhydramine (Benadryl) tablets every 6 hours. These drugs are sold without prescription. Diphenhydramine may cause drowsiness. Don’t drive, swim or surf after taking this medication.
Although formerly considered effective, vinegar is no longer recommended for Portuguese man-of-war stings. In a laboratory experiment, vinegar dousing caused discharge of nematocysts from the larger (P. physalis) man-of-war species. The effect of vinegar on the nematocysts of the smaller species (which has less severe stings) is mixed: vinegar inhibited some, discharged others.
No studies support applying heat to Portuguese man-of-war stings. Studies on the effectiveness of meat tenderizer, baking soda, papain, or commercial sprays (containing aluminum sulfate and detergents) on nematocyst stings have been contradictory. It’s possible these substances cause further damage. In one U.S. Portuguese man-of-war fatality, lifeguards sprayed papain solution immediately on the victim’s sting. Within minutes, the woman was comatose, and later died.
Most Hawaii Portuguese man-of-war stings disappear by themselves, sometimes within 15 or 20 minutes. Because of this, even harmful therapies often appear to work. A key concept in the first aid of any injury is: Do no harm. Therefore, avoid applying unproven, possibly harmful substances on stings.
Source: Hawaiian Lifeguard Association