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Jellyfish stings and allergic reactions

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Jellyfish stings and allergic reactions

One of the most common wildlife encounters that all surfers have is with Jellyfish. For a lot of us they pose no threat, but for others they’re a real problem.

Obviously it depends on what type of animal it is, some are deadly such as the Box jellyfish and others like the Blue blubber are thought to be harmless.

What if you’re someone who gets localised allergic reactions from those “harmless” stings? Some of us end up with long lasting welts that are itchier than the itchiest thing you’ve experienced, worst of all scratching can sometimes make it spread. These reactions can last up to a month or more if not treated.

I’m one of those who react to almost all jelly stings. The sting itself is not so bad (provided it’s a harmless jelly) and for a moment it burns a little, but the horrible part is from the next day onwards.

Blue blubber jellyfish sting

After this one I’ve had enough, because it’s starting to degrade my windsurfing experience. This particular sting happened in Queensland, Brisbane. I was windsurfing at a sport called Sandgate and while standing in the water a Blue blubber brushed past my leg, I discovered they were all around me. Luckily it was only one that got me, which is still enough to keep me out the water.

For anyone with a similar problem, I find that a steroid cream works best. It’s a prescription cream so you’ll need to go to a doctor, but so far it’s the only thing that works for me. Also make sure you don’t touch your skin after it’s applied, the scratching prevents the reaction from going away. It usually takes a few days of using it until the rash disappears, without it the rash seems to go on forever.

Steroid cream for stings

3 days after using steroid cream
This is 3 days after using the cream

Personally I think that it’s a result of an overactive immune system as it’s not due to one particular Jellyfish, I’ve had the same immune reaction from different types of jellies. I have also tried anti-histamines and to be honest, they’re nowhere near as effective as using the above mentioned cream.

Trust me I’ve tried hot water, vinegar, bite creams, tablets and a lot more, this stuff works. The only problem is that long term repeated use could result in skin conditions (it’s a steroid), so first prize is obviously prevention. I’m also not sure if the body builds a resistance to steroid creams over time.

I know vinegar is a popular immediate treatment and in my case it doesn’t seem to help the post reaction, but perhaps it might reduce it to some degree. The same goes for hot water, interestingly hot water is supposed to be effective for Blue bottles, not vinegar.

Most people think that a jelly sting happens at that instant. Not really, while the majority of the sting occurs at the encounter, it still gradually gets worse as the leftover nematocysts fire away one at a time. A nematocyst (stinging cell) houses a tiny harpoon that penetrates your skin when fired and it pumps the venom into you. These stinging cells are what come off the Jellyfish’s tentacles. Should you get stung avoid rubbing the area to prevent triggering those remaining nematocysts.

You might think I’m weird, but I personally found a pair of leggings to be useful. They’re almost like stockings but are actually those thin black tights that girls wear. They’re cheap and I’ve tested them against the jellies, works great. Obviously you’ll need a long sleeved rash vest as well. I haven’t used leggings long enough to tell if they’ll get stretched. Another problem might be that the stinging cells (nematocysts) could get trapped in the material on the outside, which might end up on your skin at some later stage. I haven’t experienced that yet and it seems the jelly bits didn’t stick to mine, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. In this pic I’ve got them over my suit, but you should probably wear them under so they don’t slip off.

Nicholas spaggiari windsurfer

Probably the best bet is to use a stinger suit made for this kind of protection. They’ll cover your whole body and are easy to put on unlike a winter-wetty. They’re thin so you won’t find it as hot as a wetsuit which means its fine for summer or any other season. You can get one like this from most dive shops. Far north Queenslanders use them for swimming when the Box jellies are around, so they’ll get the job done for sure.

Stinger suit for jellyfish

If you only get mild reactions then you probably don’t want to go as far as a stinger suit, but perhaps you don’t like the idea of having a little itch. In that case, another trick that I found, which I know for sure makes a difference, is to use a lot of thick sun screen. It seems to reduce the sting and I think that’s simply because of the extra layer which stops some of the cells penetrating your skin. Obviously the water takes it off over time, but if you don’t have massive reactions and don’t have any other options then this fix is at least something you can try.

If anyone else has preventative ideas that are easy and cheap to implement, please comment.


  • Dorran
    Dorran Monday, 10 March 2014

    Awesome info & tips. :) I get the same rash from these Jellies!!!

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