NHS website

Jellyfish and other sea creature stings

A sea creature sting can usually be treated with first aid. But if serious symptoms develop, such as severe pain, swelling or difficulty breathing, dial 999 for an ambulance.

10 December 2018

Introduction

Most stings from sea creatures in the UK are not serious and can be treated with first aid. Sometimes you may need to go to hospital.

What to do if you have been stung

Important

Get help if possible

Ask a lifeguard or someone with first aid training for help.

If help is not available:

Do

  • rinse the affected area with seawater (not fresh water)
  • remove any spines from the skin using tweezers or the edge of a bank card
  • soak the area in very warm water (as hot as can be tolerated) for at least 30 minutes – use hot flannels or towels if you can't soak it
  • take painkillers like paracetamol ↗ or ibuprofen ↗

Don't

  • do not use vinegar
  • do not pee on the sting
  • do not apply ice or a cold pack
  • do not touch any spines with your bare hands
  • do not cover or close the wound

Go to a minor injuries unit if you have:

  • severe pain that isn't going away
  • been stung on your face or genitals
  • been stung by a stingray

Find your nearest minor injuries unit ↗

Go to A&E or call 999 if you have been stung and have:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • fits or seizures
  • severe swelling around the affected area
  • severe bleeding
  • vomiting
  • lightheadedness or loss of consciousness

Find your nearest A&E department ↗

Symptoms of sea creature stings

The main symptoms of sea creature stings are intense pain where you're stung and an itchy rash.

Jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war stings can also cause raised circular areas on the skin (welts).

How to avoid being stung

Do

  • look out for beach warning signs
  • consider wearing a wetsuit when swimming in the sea, particularly during the spring and summer
  • wear waterproof shoes or sandals when walking in shallow water or rocky areas
  • scuff or stamp your feet when walking in shallow water to make sea creatures aware you're approaching

Don't

  • do not touch or handle sea creatures that sting

UK sea creatures that sting