Stingrays are found all over the world and, while not all carry a stinger, it is good to know how to deal with the more infamous species in the unlucky chance that you are stung by a venomous ray. Below is everything you need to know about the identification, treatment, and prevention of this painful and often times mistreated sting.
So first off, here’s how to check if you’ve been stung:
Look for a small “V” shaped cut on the top of the foot or ankle that is usually accompanied by intense pain and girl like screaming. Rays pack a pretty solid punch -so sharp, radiating pain will be a definite indicator that you didn’t just kick a submerged rock or reef. Cuts are almost always on the top of the foot since most swimmers accidently trample these defensive creatures resulting in a nasty venom filled whip across the foot.
How to treat the bloody Sting
First, if the patient is bleeding heaps, elevate the extremity and use direct pressure with gauze, cloth or a towel to stop the bleeding. Clean the laceration as you would with any other injury with sterile water and antiseptic. Most likely the cut will be minor compared to the sting, but don’t forget to throughly disinfect the wound as severe infection can easily occur.
To relieve the sting there are 2 things that help: pain killers and near boiling water.
In Hot Water
As strange as it sounds near boiling water is an easy and effective remedy to treat a sting. The hot water supposedly denatures the venom and neutralizes the pain when applied directly to the wound. A patient should submerge their injured paw into a well heated vat of water and leave it there for 30-90 minutes to feel any results. Make sure that the water you are using is hotter than your everyday bathwater, but not hot enough to burn the skin. Remember, you don’t want to worsen your mate’s injuries and turn their foot into a boiled cabbage, so only use water that is as hot as the person can handle.
While hot water is a great way to treat the sting, often times it is unavailable to the everyday beachgoer. If there is no nearby hotel, restaurant or home to boil you some water, pain killers are a good remedy to treat the pain in the meantime.
Pain killers can work alone or in conjunction with hot water and will definitely be needed for those with a low pain tolerance. So if you run out of cement pills (to harden the f*** up) or can’t schwill whiskey out the bottle then try over the counter meds to dull the pain. At the beach people can usually get a hold of these quicker than they can a pot of hot water, so if the patient isn’t allergic to any medication then read the warning labels/directions and give them the correct dosage. Note, if the patient is vomiting don’t try to feed them pills, this will only lead to choking or a chunder-y mishap.
If the patient looks unstable after being stung notify a nearby lifeguard, dial 911, or head straight to the hospital. Sometimes complications can occur and immediate medical attention may be required.
If you choose not to head to the doctor’s office, remember that physicians usually prescribe antibiotics for stings because the laceration can easily become infected. If you notice swelling, redness and tenderness around the injury, chances are that the stinger had some bacteria on it and you will definitely need prescribed meds.
How to Avoid being Stung
Ask a lifeguard or crusty ol’ local if there are any stingrays that frequent the area. Some beaches don’t have any rays, while others are breeding grounds for these cartilaginous fishes. Lifeguards and most beach regulars should know the local environment pretty well and, if need be, can guide you to the best place to take a dip.
For areas that do have rays, look out for warmer water and smaller surf. When the water temps are pleasant and surf is flat, stingrays start to settle closer to the shore and are more prone to being stepped on. So if your beach looks like a lake and feels like a bath remember to shuffle your feet and not to stomp around clumsily in the surf. If you do the “Stingray Shuffle,” then the little sea creatures will feel the vibrations in the sand and should swim away and leave you unscathed.
Besides that luck plays a big role in being stung, so if stingrays give you the spooks make sure to bring your rabbit’s foot and lucky horseshoe with you next time you head out to the beach!
Top picture borrowed from: http://www.elasmodiver.com/Chasing_Rays_in_Baja_Article.htm