Scientists learned what come do and also what not to do once stung through a jellyfish. The result? folk remedies room bad.

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The tentacles the the Portuguese guy o" war, (which is technically a siphonophore, a group related come jellyfish), save harpoon-like cells called nematocysts that supply painful doses of venom. Darieus / iStock This article is native Hakai Magazine, an digital publication around science and culture in coastal ecosystems. Read more stories prefer this in ~ hakaimagazine.com.

Nothing damages a day in ~ the beach faster than a jellyfish sting. The animal’s poisonous tentacles have the right to stick to arms and legs, moving burning pain to a huge swath of skin. In serious cases, the stings deserve to be life-threatening. And also yet, the most typical first-aid accuse not only fail to lull the pain, castle can even make the sting worse.

In a new research paper, scientists tested various ways of treating jellyfish stings and also revealed some surprising finds. Rinsing through seawater, because that example, only spreads the sting come a larger area. Scraping turn off the tentacles through a credit transaction card—a technique recommended even by well-respected medical care organizations—is an equally negative strategy. Scraping the wound applies pressure that reasons stingers to release more venom.

“When I an initial started doing this research study I was surprised the a the majority of this advice doesn’t really come indigenous science,” says Christie Wilcox, a venom scientist at the college of Hawai‘i, and also coauthor that two recent studies ~ above jellyfish sting treatment. And also before you ask: no, you shouldn’t pee top top the wound.

In a best-case scenario, pee will act together a neutral solution that just moves the tentacles around, says Wilcox. However urine doesn’t have a consistent chemical makeup, she says. Depending upon various factors, such as whether a person is dehydrated and also what they’ve consumed that day, urine can actually contain chemical compounds that create stinging cell to fire. “It can cause massive stinging,” she says. 

To protect against the sting and also bring relief, Wilcox proposal a three-step treatment:

Douse the area through vinegar, to rinse away the tentacles and also deactivate the stinging cells. If you do this first, friend won’t spread out the sting to other locations when you effort to eliminate the tentacles.Pluck turn off the tentacles through tweezers. Scraping them turn off or rubbing through sand (another recommended approach) root cause any active stingers come release more venom, so you desire to delicately background the tentacles off the skin.Apply heat.

While numerous medical specialists advise ice, and an ice pack may undoubtedly temporarily numb the area, cold preservation the gift that’s already been injected, and also in some situations may also enhance the action of the toxin, Wilcox says. Instead, heat permanently inactivates the venom, she says.

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In two different studies released in the journal Toxins, researchers looked at therapies for both the box jellyfish (some varieties of which have the right to be deadly in significant cases) and also the Portuguese man-of-war. They found that the exact same advice applies, regardless of which kind of pet caused the sting. “You don’t need to be a jelly professional to know what come do,” Wilcox says.