Hey, planning on spending some time by the ocean at any point in the next few months? Here’s a reassuring piece of news for you: You will never, ever be in a situation this summer where you find yourself feeling obligated to pee on someone. At least at the beach. I don’t know what else you do with your time.
Anyway, I’m talking about jellyfish, and the old wisdom that urinating on a sting will help ease the pain. According to a study published earlier this year in the journal Toxins and recently highlighted by writer Ilima Loomis at Hakai magazine, we’ve gotten it all wrong. The study authors tested the effect of various folk treatments on the amount of venom present at the site of a sting, concluding that pee as a remedy ranged from ineffective to downright counterproductive. “Urine doesn’t have a consistent chemical makeup,” Loomis explained, and “[d]epending on various factors, such as whether a person is dehydrated and what they’ve eaten that day, urine might actually contain chemical compounds that trigger stinging cells to fire.”
Rinsing with seawater, for example, only spreads the sting to a larger area. Scraping off the tentacles with a credit card — a method recommended even by well-respected healthcare organizations — is an equally bad strategy. Scraping the wound applies pressure that causes stingers to release more venom.
Here, according to lead study author Christie Wilcox, a researcher at the University of Hawaii, is a better strategy: Lift the tentacles away from the skin, rather than attempting to push or scrape them off, which can just spread the sting around. If you gave vinegar on hand, pour some on the irritated area, which helps neutralize the venom. Heat has a similar effect, if hot water is more easily accessible than vinegar (though if you’re going to an area where jellyfish are known to pop up, maybe it couldn’t hurt to toss a bottle in your beach bag?). And if you want to cheer yourself up, consider that at least it wasn’t one of those jellyfish whose sting causes a sense of impending doom. Also, you didn’t get peed on today. Things could be worse.