I am really looking forward to taking my little one to the beach for the first time this year. Whilst the beach is great fun for any child there are a few sea creatures that can ruin a holiday.
If your child gets stung by one of these little guys try not to panic. Most stings cause nothing more than a localised skin reaction and a whole lot of pain. If your child is prone to allergic reactions there is a possibility they could however develop a severe allergic reaction and you will have to be on the lookout for this.
There are many dangerous marine animals but fortunately South Africa doesn’t have too many that your little ones will come across on the beaches and in rockpools. Below, I will describe how to manage the stings and bites of the most common sea creatures on South Africa’s shores.
There are over 2000 different species of jellyfish and the toxins vary among them.
The nematocysts (cells inside the tentacles that release the toxin) from different species of jellyfish are either inhibited or stimulated to release more toxin depending on what first aid is applied which can make initial management challenging.
The jellyfish we encounter in South African waters are most commonly a relatively harmless type of box jellyfish. They most often only cause immediate pain, redness, tingling and itchiness.
How to treat jellyfish stings:
There is some debate as to how to treat jellyfish stings. Some suggest rinsing the wound in seawater others suggest vinegar or hot water and then there also seems to be some confusion about the order of steps. Based on a systematic review, which provides the best evidence, I have outlined the management of a jellyfish sting:
- Always provide Basic Life Support first. Don’t try remove any tentacles unless your child is responsive and stable.
- Flush the area with seawater to remove the tentacles that are stuck to the skin. You can use tweezers to gently remove tentacles whilst flushing. You can also use your hands provided you wear gloves. Don’t scrape away tentacles or rub with sand as the pressure will only release more toxin. Do not use fresh water as this causes more toxin to be released.
- Apply a paste of bicarb (50% bicarb of soda and 50% seawater) for several minutes and rinse off with seawater.
- Immerse the area in hot water (as hot as possible without burning the skin). Heat will help to reduce the pain. Apply for 30-90 minutes either in a hot shower, bath or by using heat packs.
- If heat has not helped the pain apply ice packs.
- Oral analgesics, anti-inflammatories and antihistamines are all effective.
- Monitor for a severe allergic reaction.
Jellyfish sting don’t’s:
Vinegar: I don’t recommend rinsing with vinegar. Vinegar is only effective for certain species of jellyfish and since it is very difficult to identify the species responsible for a sting I would avoid it. Vinegar can cause nematocysts to release more toxin causing significantly more pain.
Tweezers: Trying to remove stingers with tweezers or by scraping can also cause them to discharge more toxin. It is now recommended to avoid this.
The blue bottle, also known as the Pacific or Portuguese man-o’-war, is very common along the coast of South Africa. Management of these stings is similar to that of the jellyfish sting described above.
- SEA URCHIN
These spikey creatures are like the hedgehogs of the sea and are commonly found in rock pools. If your little ones accidentally step on one or touch one, the urchin will shoot out some of their spines.
As with most sea creatures some are more poisonous than others, but most sea urchins cause nothing more than a painful puncture wound similar to that of a splinter. On the odd occasion there may be also be burning, swelling and numbess of the area that lasts a few hours.
What to do if your child comes into contact with a sea urchin:
- Remove all the spines with tweezers or your hands if large enough. Do this very carefully as the spines are fragile and can break easily.
- Stop any bleeding with firm pressure.
- Rinse the wound with salt water.
- Soak the wound in vinegar throughout the day or apply a cloth soaked in vinegar over the wound to dissolve any spines you were unable to remove.
- Follow with warm compresses to help with the pain and swelling.
- Analgesics and anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen.
If you don’t manage to remove the spines and they don’t fully disolve with vinegar they may need to be removed by a medical practitioner.
The spines would also have caused puncture wounds into the skin so its important to keep the area clean and watch out for any signs of infection.
- SEA ANEMONE
These beautiful creatures, which live in rock pools, can be very tempting for our kids and thankfully most of their stings are harmless.
What to do if your child has been stung by an anemone:
- Flush the area with seawater to remove as many stingers as you can.
- Immerse area in hot water for up to 90 minutes.
- Apply ice packs if heat does not help.
- Oral analgesics, anti-inflammatories and antihistamines.
- Monitor for a severe allergic reaction.
WHEN YOU NEED TO SEEK MEDICAL HELP:
- Difficulty breathing
- Confusion and/or loss of consciousness
- Chest pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscles cramps severe bleeding
- Severe pain that won’t go away
- Stings on a large surface area, the face, throat or genitalia
- Signs of infection over the next few days: increased pain, redness, swelling, pus and/or fever
SIMPLE SAFETY TIPS
- Look for any warning signs at the beach about jellyfish and other dangerous marine life in the area and AVOID.
- If you find any jellyfish or blue bottles on the beach it’s likely there will be more floating around in the breakers. Rather avoid the water.
- Never touch a jellyfish or blue bottle, even if it looks dead. The tentacles can still sting even if they aren’t attached to the body.
- Invest in some good quality swim shoes. They can be worn in and out of the water. These have a rubber sole and will protect little feet from nasties they may step on, as well as the hot beach sand, which can burn.
- Don’t forget that tetanus prophylaxis is important for any break in the skin. Refer to my previous blog for more information.
It’s important your kids respect the little animals they may come across at the beach. Teach your children to look but NOT touch. There are so many fun things to do at the beach so don’t let bluebottles and sea urchins scare you. Just keep an eye out and initiate immediate first aid to prevent a small injury from turning into something much bigger.
Keep on hand my on-the-go first aid MikiKit. It is compact and will fit perfectly into your beach bag ☺ https://www.oneaid.co.za/shop/