What should you do if stung whilst in the sea?

Simple guide on what to do if you or your child is stung or steps on a spiny fish while in the sea

What should you do if stung whilst in the sea?

A day out at the beach and swimming in the sea can sometimes be a painful affair, jellyfish are responsible for the most stings in the sea around the UK (although not dangerous) but they can be extremely painful.  We’ve put together a simple summary on common stingers and what to do as recommended by the NHS.


Weever-fish are plain-looking fish that sometimes nestle in the sand, in water just a few centimetres deep. A weever-fish will raise a sharp spine on its back in weaver fishself-defence if trodden on. 

These types of puncture wounds can be prevented by wearing a beach shoe with a thick sole designed to withstand weaver fish spines. (see alder coral coral sole)

If trodden on, place the affected area in water as hot as you can stand (test the water first so as not to scald the person) for 30-90 minutes and seek medical attention immediately.  Large spines can be removed using tweezers (never use bare hands) and the area cleaned with soap and water.  Spines near tendons or joints should be treated in A&E. Simple painkillers can be given to relieve and pain.


jelly fish stingIf you are stung by a jellyfish, do not rub as this will cause the pain to increase.  Lightly spray the area with sea water and apply a cold compress if available.  Most stings are mild and don’t need medical attention but if or your child experience difficulty breathing or a large area has been stung then dial 999.

Any remaining tentacles should be removed using tweezers or a clean stick (wear gloves if they're available). Applying a heat pack to the affected area, or immersing it in hot water helps to reduce pain and inflammation.

Ignore any advice you may have heard (That episode from Friends!) about urinating on the sting. It's unlikely to help.

After a jellyfish sting, any pain and swelling can be treated with painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

If you spot a jellyfish, you can report it to the MCS at www.mcsuk.org.

Sea Urchins are similar to weaver-fish in that the stings are puncture wounds from the spines.  If there are signs that you or someone you're with has had a severe sea urchinsallergic reaction (anaphylaxis), dial 999 immediately.

Immerse the affected area in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated) for 30-90 minutes. Again, be careful not to burn your skin.  Any large spines should be carefully removed from the wound using tweezers. The small venomous organs (pedicellariae) can be removed by using a razor blade to gently scrape them out. It may help to apply a small amount of shaving foam to the area first.

Scrub the wound using soap and water, and then rinse it with fresh water. Don't close the wound with tape. Pain and swelling can be treated with painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

If the skin is red and badly inflamed, a topical antibiotic cream or ointment should be applied three times a day.

If you are stung by a stingray alert a lifeguard and dial 999 to request an ambulance. There's no antidote to stingray venom, but the pain caused by a sting can be relieved by:

  • immersing the affected area in hot water (as hot as can be tolerated) for 30-90 minutes
  • pain-numbing medication or local anaesthetic
  • pain-relieving medication given directly through a vein

Once the wound has been cleaned and the sting is removed (if necessary), the doctor will be able to look for further damage. You may need a tetanus booster if it's more than five years since your last tetanus injection.

After being stung by a stingray, you'll usually be given antibiotics, as there's a high risk of the wound being contaminated by bacteria in the sting and the seawater, which could lead to an infection.


alder beach shoesWe would always recommend children and adults wear re-inforced beach shoes whenever playing in the sea, not only preventing painful stings from weaver-fish but also protecting feet from broken glass and sharp stones.  We particulary like the robust Alder Coral Soul Beach Shoes at £7.99.  They have a really thick sole and feel secure on the feet.

Available in red, blue or grey.




References: NHS – Jelly Fish and other sea creatures stings

                        RNLI – In the Surf – Your guide to surfsport safety

Tess Bradshaw Little Surfers Google + 

Topic: Beach Holidays

Category: Little Surfers Blog