Old Wives' Tale? Urine as Jellyfish Sting Remedy

ByABC News
August 7, 2006, 4:51 PM

Aug. 8, 2006 — -- From Hanauma Bay, Hawaii, to Cape Cod, Mass., jellyfish are swarming right now, even forcing some beaches to close to keep swimmers from being stung.

That's because late summer is prime jellyfish season, with warm waters luring them close to shore.

And since you're far more likely to suffer a jellyfish sting than a shark bite, here's what you need to know, step by step, to cool the burn of a sting:

First, don't believe the rumors. Peeing on a stung bit of skin won't do much to relieve suffering, and you'll suffer some odd stares, too, doctors say.

Urine has not been scientifically proven to help in jellyfish stings, said Dr. Paul Auerbach, an emergency physician at Stanford University Hospital and an expert on jellyfish stings.

Instead, vinegar is the best first treatment, he said, when treating stings from North American jellyfish.

First things first, though. If stung by a jellyfish, be sure to get away from the jellies and out of the water to a safe area, he said. If a jelly tentacle is wrapped around an arm or leg, remove it using another object, such as a stick.

The next step is to inactivate the stingers, or nematocysts, that attach to the skin after brushing up against jellyfish tentacles. The best thing to use is acetic acid, or regular household white vinegar, Auerbach said.

In fact, the beaches of Australia are lined with vinegar stands, says Dr. Suzanne Shepherd, a travel medicine specialist and emergency physician at the University of Pennsylvania. Shepherd, who has herself been stung by jellyfish, said she takes vinegar with her when she heads out for a swim in the ocean.

Apply the vinegar by soaking a paper towel or thin cloth in vinegar and gently placing it to over the sting for 30 minutes, said Auerbach. Or pour the vinegar directly over the area. Isopropal alcohol or rubbing alcohol can also inactivate nematocysts, although neither it nor vinegar should be rubbed into the sting, Auerbach said.