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There are many different types of sea life that may be found along the shore of Mustang Island, as you explore Port Aransas. Two common sea creatures are Jellyfish and the Portuguese Man of War, both of which can give quite a powerful sting if touched. Be prepared to save the day by learning how to treat a jellyfish sting at the beach, plus some tips on how to assemble your own beach first aid kit.
There are few things that can ruin a beach day faster than a jellyfish or man o’war sting. Prompt treatment of a jellyfish sting is key to alleviating the pain, and preventing the affected area from getting worse, like swelling or blistering.
What they look like
Jellyfish can range in size, shape and color, with most being semi-transparent white to a mesmerizing royal blue. Some may take the shape of an oblong balloon or a rounded mushroom shape. There are even jellyfish that glow in the dark!
You may see them washed up on the sand as you’re walking along the beach, usually right along the water line. The waves may toss them around, so beware of the trailing tentacles.
If you want to learn more about the many different varieties of jellyfish, check out this beautiful photo book, Jellyfish: A Natural History. The colorful photos in this book are amazing and it would make a great coffee table book to display in your home.
Fun fact: A group of jellyfish is called a bloom, swarm or smack.
How to spot jellyfish in the water
Jellyfish are typically translucent and not easily visible in the waves. If you do spot a jellyfish while swimming in the water, paddle away and give them plenty of space. Jellyfish tentacles can extend from one to five feet (or more) from their body. You may be unable to spot their long tentacles underwater, so be sure to give them plenty of room and swim in the opposite direction.
Hot tip: Watch for beach warning flags at most beach access entry points. The flag colors will warn of unusually strong rip currents and high occurrence of jellyfish in the area.
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What to do if you see a jellyfish on the beach
When a jellyfish washes ashore in the waves, their long tentacles can still sting you. Take care not to step on them. If you spot a jellyfish that has washed up on the beach, do NOT poke or touch it with your skin. Jellyfish tentacles can still sting even after the animal is dead. They are fascinating to look at and photograph, but do not touch them. Stings are quite painful!
It’s common to see small blue button jellies washed up on the sand, and while they are certainly small (think nickel-sized or smaller), they may still be able to deliver a small zing. Encourage your children to recognize and look at them, but NOT to touch, just to be safe.
How to treat a jellyfish sting
- If you think you’ve been stung by a jellyfish, leave the water and head ashore. Inspect the area and take care not to briskly towel off the area.
- According to the Mayo Clinic, you should rinse the wound with sea water or hot water to deactivate stinging cells (you can even use a reusable hot water bottle with the hot tap water inside or leave a bottled water out in the sun). If you don’t have access to hot water, rinse the skin with sea water (not cold) and/or white vinegar for about 30 seconds. Studies have shown that applying heat definitely helps (even though you may feel like you want to put ice on it at first, stick with heat initially).
- If there are any visible stingers, try to remove them by gently scraping a credit card across the surface (most all of us have one of those handy, even at the beach). Rinse the area again. Wear gloves or put your hands inside plastic bags if needed, to avoid touching the stinging cells. Do your best to avoid rubbing it with a towel.
- Treat the affected area with a mild hydrocortisone cream to help relieve any itching and swelling. Take a pain reliever medicine for the discomfort (remember to never give aspirin to children).
- If the sting is painful, you may want to stay out of the water for the rest of the day, as some say salt water may make the discomfort worse. Use your best judgment and consult a lifeguard if you need assistance.
NOTE: I am not a doctor, so always heed the advice of a medical professional if you’re unsure of how to treat a jellyfish sting. If you’re having an allergic reaction to a large sting area, or if the sting is on the face or near the eyes, don’t hesitate to call for a lifeguard or dial 911 for an emergency. Signs of an allergic reaction might look like difficulty breathing, nausea, rash or loss of consciousness. Know the signs and be on high alert.
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How to be prepared for stings
Always keep a first aid kit in your beach bag (see my tips on what to include below). I was stung once by a jellyfish in the ocean as a teenager, and a woman nearby on the beach ran over with her own mixture of meat tenderizer and vaseline. While it didn’t completely cure the pain of the sting across the top of my thigh (which lasted for a few days), it was really helpful in the moment to soothe my aching leg and reduced the sensitivity in my skin. Keep reading below for more home remedies from followers of our Facebook page.
Any time you venture out to the beach, keep an eye out for the natural sea life in the water and on the sand. Remember that we are guests in their natural environment, so don’t be surprised when you see them. Check the beach warning flags for alerts, which are usually located at the main beach access points. And don’t forget to educate your children on what to look out for and to avoid in the water.
If your kids are interested in learning more about jellyfish and sea life, here are some great books for kids:
- Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?: Amazing Sea Creature Facts
- Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone
- Jellyfish (A Day in the Life: Sea Animals)
- Coloring Books for Teens: Ocean Designs
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What to pack in your Beach First Aid Kit
Most of us pack easily for a fun day at the beach with a tote bag filled with sunscreen, sunglasses and water. However, if an emergency happens, you can easily be prepared with some essential supplies in a great first aid kit, specifically for the beach. Here’s what you should pack to be prepared to treat a jellyfish sting or any other minor emergencies at the beach.
- Safe Sea jellyfish sting deterrent lotion, $16
Click to watch the video of how this lotion works (also available as a spray), it’s pretty amazing. It’s not a repellant, but more of a barrier lotion to prevent stingers from staying in the skin. Very interesting!
- OR Sting Away Jellyfish Sting Treatment & Relief, $16
- OR Stream2Sea After Sun & Sting Relief Gel, $12
I carry a small travel-size bottle that I can refill with vinegar and toss in my beach first aid kit (see my favorite first aid bag below)
- Reusable hot water bottle
Fill it and sit it in the sun on the sand, it will be warm in no time.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol), I prefer the rapid release formula
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), I prefer the liquid gel minis.
Be sure to grab all of these important first aid items before heading to the beach and pack them in an easy to use travel bag, like my favorite clear bag for first aid kits below. I’ve used this type of clear bag for everything from beach trips to ski trips, and the heavy duty clear sides help me easily find what I need FAST when anyone in my family needs medicines or first aid supplies. I love this brand and these bags!
What NOT to do for a jellyfish sting
Do NOT pee on it. This is an old wives’ tale-type remedy I hear often, but the acidity of urine will only make the pain worse.
Do NOT go back in the salt water if the sting is severe. The ocean water may irritate the affected area and cause more discomfort.
Do NOT pour lemon juice on the sting. Or alcohol. Or anything acidic.
Other home remedies
Recently, I asked my followers on Facebook for their home remedies that they’ve used to treat a jellyfish sting. I received some interesting and downright hilarious responses. Now remember as you read through these, they are simply suggestions from other beach-lovers like yourself.
If you’re unsure, consult a doctor before attempting treatment. While some of these suggestions may seem questionable, it just goes to show that beach-lovers have tried everything. Here’s what other beach-lovers said…
- “Make a paste of baking soda, meat tenderizer and vaseline. Put it in a travel size container and throw in your beach bag.”
- “Vinegar and a heat pack“
- “Use shaving cream to prevent the spread of any toxins from the sting. Plus, it cools the skin from the heat of the swelling.”
- “Hot water to break down the toxins at first. Then ice packs later for the pain and swelling.”
- “Menthol chewing tobacco mixed with meat tenderizer“
- “Toothpaste with fluoride, rub it on the sting and the burning stops”
Again as a reminder, these home remedies may or may not work for you depending on your situation. If you are unsure, please heed the advice of a medical professional before attempting to treat a jellyfish sting at the beach.
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