Monday, March 22, 1999
Urine is useless
against pain from
ONE morning last week, hundreds of box jellyfish
appeared on Waikiki beaches. Lifeguard Landy Blair phoned. "It's
going to be a busy day," he said. "You might want to come
Landy called me because he and I (along with several
other people) are conducting a study on the treatment of jellyfish stings.
This is our third year evaluating the effectiveness of hot packs and cold
packs on box jellyfish stings.
On windward beaches, where people get stung by
Portuguese man-of-wars, we're testing meat tenderizer, fresh water and
Because of this study, I receive lots of mail asking
questions about jellyfish stings. Here are some common ones:
What is the best treatment for jellyfish stings?
For box jellyfish stings, douse the area with vinegar
to inactivate any stinging cells that are still on the skin.
Do not use vinegar on Portuguese man-of-war stings. An
Australian study reported that vinegar causes stinging cells to fire when
poured on some Portuguese man-of-war tentacles.
For these stings, pluck off the tentacles, then rinse
the area with water, either salt or fresh. The jury is still out on how
fresh water affects stings, but try it. Some sting victims feel better
after taking a shower.
So far in our study, some people report good pain
relief from hot packs placed on the skin. Others say that cold packs work
well. Still others have experienced no relief from either hot or cold
packs on their stings.
The best pain treatment for jellyfish stings is by no
means a clear call.
Does urinating on jellyfish stings help?
No. At best, this common folk remedy does nothing. At
worst, it can fire undischarged stinging cells and make the sting worse.
When my doctor heard about our jellyfish study he said,
"Great. I hope you tell people to stop urinating on every cut and
sting they get in the ocean."
So I will. Don't do it.
How about putting meat tenderizer on jellyfish
The story of meat tenderizer on Hawaii stings is an
interesting one. In 1969, Hawaii dermatologist Harry L. Arnold Jr. got a
call from an anxious mother whose 6-year-old had been stung by a
Dr. Arnold wrote, "I recalled having recently read
a newspaper article suggesting that meat tenderizer would relieve the pain
of insect stings, and I impulsively advised the mother to dissolve a
teaspoonful in a quarter cup of water and rub the solution into the
The mother arrived at the doctor's office 40 minutes
later reporting the pain and marks gone. Of course, these stings usually
disappear with no treatment at all. Nevertheless, that was the beginning
of the Hawaii tradition of putting meat tenderizer on marine stings.
The problem with this treatment is that it has never
been scientifically tested. Several researchers, however, have since
tested meat tenderizer on bee and ant stings in lab mice. They found no
difference in welt size with meat tenderizer either on the skin, or even
injected into it.
The best bet regarding the treatment of ocean stings is
to stay up to date with the latest research, a task easy in this computer
age. For information on jellyfish sting treatments, check Internet
Grateful Med (http://igm.nlm.nih.gov),
which is run by the National Library of Medicine.
And sometime in the future, when we have enough data,
you'll find the results of our Hawaii study there too.