Jellyfish Stings: Urine and Other Remedies May Not Work

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People who live in jellyfish territory may want to reconsider using traditional remedies to soothe the pain of stings, according to research published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Based on a review of 19 previous studies, researchers found that using hot water and a topical anesthetic are more effective than using urine, vinegar, baking soda and meat tenderizer.

These other treatments, they said, may work with species found outside of North America.

"Some of the remedies promoted by word of mouth and online, such as vinegar, actually make the pain worse with certain species of jellyfish," lead author Dr. Nicholas Ward of the University of California San Diego said in a press release. "Current evidence suggests hot water and topical lidocaine, which is available at local pharmacies, may be more universally beneficial in treating pain from a jellyfish sting. Topical lidocaine, a local anesthetic, may also inactivate the stinging cells of the jellyfish, preventing further envenomation."

If hot water and lidocaine are not available, Ward and his colleagues recommend removing the stingers -- called nematocysts -- and washing the area with salt water.

The American Heart Association and American Red Cross recommend the use of vinegar or baking soda followed by the use of heat, but the authors said that based on findings from other studies, vinegar may actually make pain worse and cause the discharge of more venom.

Other proposed treatments, such as deionized water, meat tenderizer and urine didn't seem to soothe the pain, they said.

It has also been recommended that one apply pressure bandages after a jellyfish sting, but studies have not found evidence for or against this remedy.

Although hot water and lidocaine may be more effective than some other treatments, it's not a perfect solution.

"The perfect treatment would be readily available, cheap, capable of inactivating venom and applicable across multiple species of jellyfish," said Ward. "Until that remedy is discovered, hot water or topical lidocaine may be the best bet for a jellyfish sting in North America or Hawaii."