Of Special Interest
Now that summer is nearly here, many of us will venture to the beach. There are some hazardous creatures in the water we should try to avoid.
A stingray can be scared away by shuffling your feet over the sand as you walk through the surf. If you should be unfortunate enough to startle one by stepping on it, you may suffer the consequences as it whips its tail reflexively and buries the barb at the base of its tail into your leg or foot. Don’t panic. Calmly return to shore and place the limb in water as hot as you can stand without burning your skin, preferably 110-120 degrees fahrenheit. Leave it in the water 60-90 minutes. The spine contains a toxin that causes extreme pain but breaks down in the heat. You should see a doctor if part of the barb has broken off in the skin and can’t be easily removed. If more than five years have passed since your last tetanus shot, it should be updated. Any redness, fever, drainage or increasing pain that develops over the next several days should prompt a visit to your doctor as well, since these wounds are prone to infection.
Jellyfish cause most of the other common sting injuries in our area. Unlike the stingray toxin, the stingers (scientifically called nemacysts) from the jellyfish will actually fire their toxin into the skin if immersed in fresh water. You should rinse the area in salt water to remove any remaining stingers, and shave the skin after applying talc powder or shaving cream. The stingers will adhere to the powder or cream and can than be removed with a razor or knife. Applying vinegar to the area also stabilizes the nemacysts and keeps them from firing their toxin into the skin. Contrary to folklore and an episode of “Survivor”, urinating on the site will not provide any relief, except to the urinator for emptying his bladder. A topical steroid crème can be applied to the area a few times a day for one or two days to provide some relief and an antihistamine like Benadryl may help the itching. Avoid “dead” jellyfish on the beach as they have active stingers on their tentacles that may fire if contacted.
With proper knowledge and remedies readily at hand, a sting at the beach doesn’t have to be so painful.
--Matthew C. Radack, M.D.
Matthew Radack received a BS degree in Biology from the University of
Rochester, in Rochester, New York and his MD degree also from the University
of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, New York.
He completed his Emergency medicine residency at the Wright State
University School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, and has been a practicing
physician with Eastern Carolina Emergency Physicians since 1997.
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