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First Aid for Jellyfish Stings: Must-Know Tips for the Beach

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Updated Dec 07, 2022

First Aid for Jellyfish Stings: Must-Know Tips for the Beach

For most people, summertime is synonymous with beaches. Family bonding while swimming and barbecuing by the ocean is a fun time for everyone. If you are planning a destination vacation at one of the Philippines ’ best beaches or an international spot, you need to consider possible dangers lurking in the waters. Sharks have garnered a reputation for being deadly sea creatures. But in reality, shark attacks are not that common. On the other hand, jellyfish stings are much more common. First aid for jellyfish stings is a must-know because not only are stings painful; some can be fatal.

Types of Jellyfish

Before rebooking that trip to El Nido or Hawaii, take a few minutes to do some research. Not all jellyfish are poisonous or have painful stings. Additionally, jellyfish tend to migrate based on the temperature and season. They are more common near beaches during the summer or dry season, rather than cold or rainy seasons.

If the beach you plan to vacation at has signs or warnings that indicate jellyfish are dangerous, it would be wise to be careful. Some of the most dangerous jellyfish include the following:

Box Jellyfish

Box jellyfish are not only the most venomous jellyfish, they are also one of the deadliest marine animals out there. The most famous is the Australian box jellyfish and is scientifically known as Chironex fleckeri. This species of jellyfish is the largest of all box jellyfish, measuring up to a foot in diameter with 10-foot long tentacles. 

It can cause rapid cardiac arrest and shock if its tentacles contact a large area of skin. It can also cause skin necrosis.

Portuguese Man-of-War

The Portuguese man-of-war (Physalia physalis) jellyfish is another one of the jellyfish to watch out for at the beach. It gets its name from its unique shape, which looks like a warship. Some people also refer to it as the bluebottle jellyfish because of its translucent blue color.

Technically, the Portuguese man-of-war is not a “real” jellyfish but rather a group of organisms called siphonophores. The floating portion of the Portuguese man-of-war is a similar size to the box jellyfish. But its tentacles can reach up to 165 feet long.

This “jellyfish” is not as poisonous as the box jellyfish. The sting may not be enough to kill humans but it is extremely painful and can cause skin necrosis.

Scyphozoan Jellyfish

Out of the three jellyfish listed here, only this type of jellyfish is a “true” jellyfish. These jellyfish are the most abundant and common in the water. However, their sting isn’t as dangerous as the box jellyfish and the pain isn’t as bad as the man-of-war.

First Aid for Jellyfish Stings

Preventive measures such as visiting the beach in the off-season, wearing protective swimwear, and avoiding swimming in the sea will reduce the chances of encountering jellyfish stings. However, nature can be unpredictable at times and accidents can still happen. Jellyfish that have washed ashore can be mistaken for harmless plastic bags. To make matters worse, their tentacles can still sting and release venom even if the jellyfish is dead.

Although not all jellyfish are as dangerous as the box jellyfish, it is best to treat any jellyfish sting as an emergency situation.


  1. Quickly and thoroughly rinse the area with vinegar for 30 seconds if available. Lifeguards or treatment stations should have it on hand. (If not available, pluck the tentacles then rinse the sting sites with seawater. DO NOT use fresh water as it may further activate the stinging.)
  2. Carefully remove the tentacle from the skin to prevent further injury. Do not use your bare hands. But, if gloves are not available, use only the tips of your fingers. This may cause a mild sting. Make sure to rinse your hands with seawater/water after.
  3. Seek medical attention right away for further treatment.
  4. Over-the-counter pain medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can be taken while waiting for medical attention.


Never do the following:

  • Use urine, ice, alcohol, water, or other liquids in place of vinegar. These can make the sting pain worse.
  • Try to extract or suck out the venom.
  • Touch or scratch the wounds.

Key Takeaways

In summary, when it comes to first aid for jellyfish stings, always treat a jellyfish sting as an emergency case regardless of the type of jellyfish. Generally, jellyfish do not attack people because they cannot swim as quickly as fish or sharks. However, jellyfish may be mistaken for harmless objects like plastic bags washed ashore or floating in the water.

Learn other First Aid tips here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Updated Dec 07, 2022

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