Although beach season is ending for much of the country, going to the beach is becoming more popular in Florida and other warm areas: The tourists have gone home until the wintertime season picks up, and the weather is finally tolerable! My family was at the beach recently when I was stung by a sting ray. I had no idea how to treat the injury, and there was no lifeguard on duty, so I had to resort to calling the local emergency room and following their instructions. If you are headed to a beach any time soon, here’s what you need to know about common wildlife and what you should do for beach first aid if you have a painful encounter:
I was shocked at how excruciating the pain of a sting ray sting was! I was also surprised at how much it bled. If your child is stung by one of these normally shy creatures, get him out of the water quickly. Allow it to bleed for a little bit to let the bacteria and some of the toxins escape, but if the blood is spurting or bleeding uncontrollably, then apply pressure and call for help. If it’s a small wound and you can get the bleeding under control, find some hot water and immerse his foot in it. This takes the pain away, provided the water is hot enough; the reason for this is that heat neutralizes the protein-based toxin of the sting ray. Keep replenishing the water to keep it hot for up to 90 minutes; it takes that long to get the pain under control, then head to the doctor or emergency room for followup treatment. Of course, if your child has any trouble breathing or seems to be in any distress other than pain, call 911 immediately. Watch it for signs of infection in the following days, as these injuries are prone to bacterial infections.
We’ve all heard the home remedy for the burn of a jellyfish sting: urine. While there’s some anecdotal evidence that it can reduce the stinging pain, in actuality, it’s the heat and not the acidity that makes the difference, and heat is better applied in other ways! If your child is stung by a jellyfish, the first thing you need to do is to remove any tentacles that are remaining. If you do this barehanded, you’ll likely get stung yourself, so use a towel or a stick. Next, pour hot water, if you have it, or salt water if you don’t, over the area. If there are any signs of anaphylaxis or shock, call 911. Otherwise, wash the area well (not with cold freshwater, as this can make the injury hurt even more) and head to the doctor.
Although I’ve lived in Florida for close to a decade, I didn’t know that you should shuffle your feet in the sand in order to scare away any sting rays as you enter the water. Pay attention to any warning signs posted, and if jellyfish or sting ray activity is noted, it’s a good idea to postpone your swim to another day. Wearing beach shoes won’t stave off a sting ray sting, because its tail is strong enough cut through the fabric. A swim shirt, however, will protect against jellyfish stings.
Don’t worry too much about venomous sea life and refuse to let your kids play in the surf if you go on vacation or if you live in a state where autumn beach days are popular; just be aware of the dangers and know what to do if a bite or sting should occur.