Beach Safety – Treatment For Stingray Injuries

Golden State Lifeguards is a private provider of ocean lifeguards in the Southern California region and as such, we see and hear a lot of things in our daily operations. This summer (2017) we have seen numerous stingray incidents at local beaches and we realized that many beach visitors are not aware that they are out there. It has also been observed that many people do not know what to do when a stingray incident occurs.

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If you suspect you or a family member have been tagged by a stingray, always seek medical attention at the nearest lifeguard tower or call 911.

Symptoms of severe stingray injury:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in throat
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Fast pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

Typically hot water, antibiotics, and aggressive pain management are the mainstays of treatment for people who have been stung by stingrays.

Did you know that there are more than 22 species of stingrays in U.S. coastal waters, causing an estimated 2,000 injuries each year, usually in the spring and autumn when the rays congregate in shallow waters to spawn? Most of the injuries occur when beach visitors step on the stingray’s wings or when someone fishing lands a ray and tries to handle it.

Disturbing a stingray triggers a defensive flip of its “tail,” which contains one to four venomous spines. Stingray injuries are the top reason for emergency calls, although most injuries happen at the shoreline.

The wounds are excruciatingly painful and often take months to heal.

A stingray’s spine is sturdy enough to penetrate a wetsuit, rubber or leather boots, or even the wooden side of a boat. Scary huh?

Beach visitors will often say they never saw the stingray but were walking in the surf, felt something squishy, and then felt a pain in the ankle or the top of the foot akin to being prodded by a soldering iron. The resulting linear laceration may look trivial, and the pain is out of proportion to the wound. Identifying the barb or other tissue can be a challenge in the prehospital setting.

As soon as possible after the sting, use hot water (up to 113°F) to irrigate and soak the wound. Apply the hot water to an uninjured body part first to check tolerability, because venom-compromised limbs lose some temperature sensation. It’s unknown why hot water helps–perhaps it interrupts pain pathways or denatures proteins. Avoid cold water immersion.

Marine bacteria are quite different from ones that live on land, so be prepared for unusual infections. Because of this fact, our advice is to take injured person to an urgent care or emergency room so therapy can begin immediately. Complications from the incident could arise if immediate evaluation and care is not initiated.

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