In case of severe allergic reaction
Call 111 for an ambulance if you or someone else has been stung and has symptoms of a serious allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis from jellyfish stings is rare.
Immediately after you've been stung
If you or a family member has been stung by a jellyfish, get out of the water and follow these steps to treat the sting area. All jellyfish stings in New Zealand are treated the same way.
- Flush the stung area with sea water (or fresh water, if sea water is unavailable) to remove the tentacles.
- If tentacles are still attached use a dry towel to remove them. Wear gloves if you have some.
- Immerse the stung area in heated tap water for 15 to 20 minutes. Have it as hot as the person can bear without causing skin burns (and no more than 45° C). A shower can be used for stings to the torso. You can repeat the immersion for up to 2 hours after the injury, but be sure to limit the immersion periods to 15 to 20 minutes at a time with breaks between to allow cooling of the skin.
- Take pain relief following hot water immersion.
Do not apply vinegar or methylated spirits as they can make the sting more painful.
The National Poisons Centre is available 24 hours a day on 0800 764 766 for advice on first aid and treatment of stings.
Pain medications and precautions
- You can take pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- Antihistamines may be helpful in relieving itching and swelling.
Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or aspirin-containing products to anyone 18 years or younger because of the risk of a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with food or milk to prevent stomach irritation.
Do not give NSAIDs to anyone with:
- NSAID-induced asthma
- increased risk of bleeding, such as ulcer disease, a bleeding disorder, if taking blood thinners (anticoagulants), or following surgery, significant trauma or major dental work
- an allergy to NSAIDs.
When to see your doctor
Call your doctor if you have been stung and have:
- increasing numbness or difficulty breathing
- signs of poisoning: abdominal pain, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting
- signs of infection later: increasing pain, redness, swelling, red streaks leading away from the sting, heat, discharge of pus, fever or chills
- pain that is not controlled by following the self-care instructions
- any new or worsening symptoms
- A contaminated wound (a tetanus injection may be required).
Serious allergic reaction or anaphylaxis
These symptoms include:
- swelling around the lips and eyes
- rapid development of a rash
- shortness of breath or wheezing
- chest tightness
- severe dizziness or faints
- hoarse voice
- difficulty swallowing or throat tightness
- signs of shock (pale skin, rapid pulse and fainting).
However, it is rare for a patient to have an anaphylaxis to jellyfish, even if they are stung on the face or neck.
Types of jellyfish
The bluebottle has a burning sting. This is the jellyfish most commonly involved in stings in New Zealand waters.
The lion’s-mane jellyfish is a stinging jellyfish. It can be found in colours from white to deep blue. It grows to almost 2 metres across. Its tentacles can be up to 5 metres long and are almost invisible.
The mauve stinger, which has only few stinging catch tentacles. It can grow to 40 cm across.