Jellyfish stings are not only painful, they can sometimes be life-threatening. Stings come from jellyfish tentacles that contain venom. Jellyfish are hard to see which is why you're likely to be stung when you accidentally come into contact with one, such as while wading or swimming in water among them.
Jellyfish stings are very painful and create rashes and welts on the skin. Some people who are stung may vomit or get muscle spasms. People who have severe reactions may experience trouble breathing. In rare instances, coma and even death may occur.
If you are stung by a jellyfish, the first thing you need to do is remove tentacles from the skin with small tweezers. Don't try to scrape off the tentacles as you may end up driving them deeper into the skin. Soak the affected area in hot water to relieve pain as long as it does not burn the skin. Putting vinegar on the wound may help prevent venom from being released from the stingers. Lifeguards are often equipped with vinegar.
Stingrays are capable of causing deep cuts and puncture wounds with venomous spines on their tails. These animals are not usually aggressive, but they may attack if they feel threatened and you accidentally step on or disturb them.
Stingray stings typically produce sharp pain and bleeding. If you have a severe reaction, you may vomit or experience chills. In rare cases, paralysis or death may happen. Get medical care immediately if you receive a stingray sting. If you can't get to a doctor right away, put the affected area in hot water and clean the area with fresh water and soap. If you are bleeding, apply pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding.
People complain to the FDA that they experience skin irritation or even allergic reactions to temporary henna tattoos. "Black henna" seems to be the biggest offender. This compounds has a coal tar hair dye that contains p-phenylenediamine. This compound may cause blistering or scarring of the skin. Henna is derived from a plant and it imparts a reddish-brown or brown color to skin and hair. Additional ingredients are added to henna to produce other colors, darken it, or make the tint last longer.
Oils on poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants can give you a rash unless you wash them off within about 10 minutes of exposure. Rashes from contact with these plants are red, itchy, and swollen. Blisters may form within hours to days. A rash from these plants may last for up to two to three weeks. Over-the-counter topical medication can help relieve symptoms of a mild rash. If your rash is severe, see your doctor to obtain a prescription for cortisone, which you take by mouth. If your rash becomes infected, you may need antibiotics.
Shown left to right above are poison ivy, oak, and sumac.
Mosquitoes can harbor illnesses like West Nile virus, dengue fever, and other diseases. Take measures to protect yourself against mosquitoes when you're outside.
- Make sure door and window screens are in good working order to keep bugs out.
- Remove any areas of standing water around your home. This is where mosquitoes lay eggs.
- Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants when you're outdoors.
- Apply insect repellent before you go outside. Reapply as directed.
Ticks can harbor diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), and other tick-borne illnesses. You may even be allergic to tick bites. Some ticks are very small and are not visible with the naked eye. Protect yourself from tick bites by wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants when you're outside. Wear a hat to protect your head. Apply insect repellent before heading outside. Remove your clothes and check your body for ticks when you are back inside. Ticks can easily jump onto you or your pets as you walk outdoors, especially in tall grass or in areas that have plants. If you do find a tick, make sure to remove it properly to minimize the risk of contents of the tick ending up inside of you.
Bees are frequent fixtures of the outdoors and bee stings are not uncommon. Some people suffer mild symptoms with bee stings like pain, itching, swelling and/or hives on the skin. However, some people have a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to bee stings called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of this type of reaction are more serious and may cause severe throat and/or lips and tongue swelling that may make it difficult to breathe.
If you are prone to severe reactions to bee stings and you are stung, remove the stinger and lie down. Use your injectable epinephrine (EpiPen) and seek medical care immediately. If you are not prone to severe reactions from bee sting, remove the stinger. Clean the wound and apply ice to the area. If itching bothers you, take an antihistamine. Removing the stinger sooner rather than later is important because this minimizes the amount of venom that enters your system.
Chiggers are small mites that live in weeds or tall grass. They are too small to see easily with the naked eye. Chigger bites do not hurt. When they bite, chiggers remain attached to your skin for several days before they fall off. After chiggers fall off, they leave red welts on the skin that itch. You can use over-the-counter topical creams or oral antihistamines to relieve the itching. If you develop an infection or the welts grow bigger, see your doctor or dermatologist.
If you're going to be outdoors hiking or walking in areas where there might be snakes or bugs, do not wear flip-flops. They do not protect against hazards like snake, animal, and bug bites nor do they protect against cuts from glass, stubbed toes, or puncture wounds if you step on something sharp. Wear the appropriate closed-toed shoes when you're heading outdoors.
There are many types of venomous snakes in the U.S. Bites from these snakes may cause symptoms of pain, swelling, difficulty breathing, weakness, and alterations in heart rate. The severity of a snake bite depends on the type of snake involved, where the snake bit, the person's age and health, and the amount of venom the snake injected. Seek medical treatment right away if you or someone with you has been bitten by a snake.
Pictured clockwise from top left are the coral snake, rattlesnake, water moccasin, and copperhead.
The majority of snakes found in the US are nonvenomous. Bites from these snakes do not usually result in serious problems. These snakes may leave puncture wounds. Clean and dry the area and cover any open skin with a bandage to help prevent an infection. Very large snakes such as pythons and boa constrictors have powerful jaws, and bites from these snakes may injure the skin, bones, joints, and muscles. See the doctor right away if you are bitten by one of these snakes.
Pictured above is an adult short head garter snake.
Black widow spiders like to hide in wood piles, under rubble, in tree stumps, under rocks, in sheds, and other out-of-sight areas. These spiders have bright red markings on their bodies. A bite from a black widow may or may not be painful. The bite may leave one or two fang marks on the skin. The area may become red and tender. You may develop a nodule at the site of the bite. Venom from these spider bites may produce muscle cramps, seizures, nausea, vomiting, and high blood pressure. If any of these occur, seek medical attention right away.
Brown recluse spiders are found typically in the Midwest and South Central states. As their name implies, these spiders are reclusive and prefer to remain out of sight hiding in closets and attics. Brown recluses range in color from light yellow-tan to darker brown and they have darker brown legs. Their upper bodies have a violin-like appearance. You don't often feel the bite of a brown recluse at first, but the venom of these spiders is very toxic. The area of the bite turns red and later white. A red "bull's-eye" rash and blisters then develop. Seek immediate medical care for a brown recluse spider bite if you develop these symptoms.
Approximately 9,000 people suffer from fireworks injuries that land them in the emergency room every year. Burns comprise the majority of fireworks injuries. Often the hands, head, eyes, face, and ears are involved. If you receive a small burn that is smaller than your palm, it is okay to treat it at home. Run the affected area under cool water until you no longer feel a burning sensation. Cover the wound with a clean, dry cloth. In the event of a larger burn or a burn that affects the face, hands, feed, large joints, or genitals, go to the emergency room.
More people get skin cancer in the US than any other cancer. Skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Keep an eye on your moles and see a dermatologist for skin checks regularly. Signs that a mole may be cancerous include a change in size, color, or shape. Moles that contain more than one color or that have irregular edges may be problematic. Asymmetry is another characteristic of cancerous moles. If a mole oozes, bleeds, or itches, see your dermatologist right away.
Heat rash most often appears on areas of the skin covered by clothing in hot humid weather. Heat rash pops up due to blocked sweat ducts, which then results in the formation of small light-pink to reddish pimples. Anyone can get heat rash, but it most commonly occurs in children. Heat rash usually isn't serious and it goes away on its own. Take a cool bath or apply cool compresses to the affected areas if you are uncomfortable. Allow your skin to air dry. Do not apply lotion to the rash. If a baby or child's skin is very irritated or painful, talk to the doctor about using lotion containing calamine or hydrocortisone to ease symptoms.
Excess sun exposure may lead to red, painful sunburned skin. Sunburn may appear within a few hours of excess UV ray exposure and it may last for several weeks. Treat mild sunburn symptoms at home with oral pain relievers, moisturizing cream, and aloe. Second-degree burns produce blisters, redness, and swelling. This level of sunburn takes longer to heal. You should see your doctor if you suffer from this type of sunburn.
Protect yourself and children against sunburn. Avoid being in the sun during peak sun hours between 10 AM and 2 PM. Cover up and wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses to block out the suns damaging UV rays. Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that blocks out UVA and UVB rays from the sun at least 20 to 30 minutes before heading outside. You need enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass to adequately cover your entire body. Reapply sunscreen frequently, especially if you are swimming or sweating excessively.
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- American Cancer Society web site.
- Auerbach, P. Wilderness Medicine, 5th edition, Mosby, 2007.
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- FDA: “Temporary Tattoos, Henna/Mehndi, and “Black Henna”: Fact Sheet.”
- KidsHealth.org: “Chigger Bites.”
- Missouri Department of Conservation: “Missouri Jellyfish.”
- National Fire Protection Association.
- Ohio State University Fact Sheet.
- OSHA Fact Sheet: “Black Widow Spider,” “Brown Recluse Spider.”
- Sonnen, G. Proceedings (Baylor University Medical Center), January 2007.
- The Nemours Foundation: “First Aid: Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac,” “Poison Ivy.”
- The Society for Pediatric Dermatology: “The Importance of Sun Protection.”
- The Skin Cancer Foundation web site.
- University of Maryland Medical Center web site.
- UpToDate: “Jellyfish Stings,” “Marine Envenomations from Corals, Sea Urchins, Fish, or Stingrays.”