Stopping the Sting

Written by DAN staff

Marine life stings are an uncommon, but unfortunate reality of exploring the underwater world. No matter how hard you try, you can’t entirely eliminate the risk of marine life stings for yourself or your student divers. Know how to reduce risk, treat injuries, and keep your students more sting-free and happily diving this year.

Jellyfish in an aquarium with blue water

Jellyfish

The name “jellyfish” refers to an enormous number of marine animals belonging to the phylum Cnidarian. While some species, like the Box Jellyfish, can cause life-threatening health complications with their venom, the majority of jellyfish encountered by divers are significantly less lethal. Jellyfish stings typically range from painless, imperceptive numbness, to burning reactions with mild to moderate blistering.

Student divers may be too excited and task-focused on their first dives to keep an eye out for jellyfish, so exposure protection is important. Have students use dive skins, wetsuits or dry suits as appropriate to protect their skin. In locations where the jellyfish populations are prominent, it’s possible to be stung by almost invisible strands or tentacle pieces carried in the current. Exposure suits are the best bet for injury prevention in these areas.

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If stung, irrigate the area with generous amounts of vinegar to prevent further envenomation, remove any visible tentacles with tweezers or protective barriers, and wash the area with a seawater or saline solution. Irrigating with freshwater can cause further envenomation. Using painkillers, anti-inflammatory medications, or topical anesthetics can help remedy discomfort, as can immersing the area in hot water or icing the injury for 30 to 90 minutes.

Life threatening reactions are rare, but possible, and are characterized by severe pain, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, muscle spasms, low blood pressure, dysrhythmias, and cardiovascular failure. Follow emergency care procedures and quickly get the patient to professional medical care in these cases.

Fire Coral

Fire coral are colonial marine cnidarians that can envenomate humans through direct skin contact and cause burning skin reactions. The coral often appears yellow-green or brownish and frequently has branchy formations, although this can vary based on its environment. Divers can prevent injury by avoiding fire coral contact or by using exposure protection, such as dive skins or gloves.

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Fire coral injuries typically present as a burning sensation that can last several hours, followed by a rash that may last for several days. The rash will often subside after a day or two, only to reappear several days or weeks later. Treat fire coral injuries by rinsing the affected area with vinegar and keeping the area clean, dry, and aerated. Redness and blisters will likely develop. Allow the injury to heal on its own, do not further irrigate the area or puncture the blisters.

Fire coral injuries are rarely serious, but can complicate open wounds and result in tissue death, so be sure to seek qualified medical attention if you or a student has a rash in the area of an open wound.

For more information on marine life injuries, visit DAN.org/Health

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