In all the years of teaching scuba, I’ve only encountered a few minor flesh wounds from fire coral. My experience with jellyfish is a different story. Once while swimming in the Grand Cayman’s, the water turned black with “thimble jellyfish”. These miniature terrorists resemble a one inch slice of black okra the size and circumference of a nickel. Afterward, I felt a stinging sensation from my neck to knees. The other two people on either side, went unscathed!
Jellyfish stingers come equiped with barb on the ends. They continue to sting long after a rapid departure from the water. The barbs embed a poison into the skin. Much like poison ivy, scratching only releases more venom.
I was not the only swimmer affected with what is commonly known as “sea bather eruption”. It is so common that island pharmacies stock a special salve for treatment. Since I was not the only unfortunate swimmer that week, the pharmacies were fresh out. Forced to use home remedies, I bathed in a tub full of hot oatmeal and let it dry on the skin in hopes to draw out the poisons, later I doused my skin in vinegar. Well…. neither worked but have since learned to:
1. 1st rinse with saltwater, not freshwater
2. If used immediately, vinegar will cut the sting of the venom
3. Scraping skin with a razor will help remove the barbs from the skin’s surface
4. Take Benadryl or Prednisone to arrest skin rash, apply Hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching
5. Avoid scratching; it may spread stinging cells to other skin areas
6. Wash your wetsuit & swimsuits thoroughly in vinegar & soapy water so barbs will wash out
7. Watch for these little guys May-Sept, especially in the Caribbean
Once you’ve completed steps 1-7, pour 1-2 oz of gin, vodka or whiskey. Do not waste this precious liquid on your skin, but poor directly in your mouth! If this does not help the itching sensation, repeat this process.
No worries, these little black critters only float on the surface and do not bother divers at the depths where we dive. I am curious if other’s experiencing jelly stings are also allergic to poison ivy? This just may be a common denominator. Please share your Jellyfish story and let us know if you are also allergic to ivy’s.