In an iconic episode of Friends, Monica gets stung by a jellyfish at the beach and Joey informs the group that urinating on the sting will help to relieve the pain. Joey gets stage fright, so Chandler steps up and pees on his future wife, traumatizing the entire group. While this is a great example of pop culture influencing our beliefs about medical treatment, is there any truth to Joey’s claim?
In what sounds like a plotline out of a mid-‘90s sitcom that I would absolutely watch, Dr. Marc Taub is an emergency physician and the medical director of emergency services at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, and has surfed for more than 40 years, resulting in dozens of jellyfish stings. If anyone knows about emergency treatment for beach-related injuries, it’s him.
To start with, jellyfish envenomations — the fancy name for stings — are definitely painful, but are generally not life-threatening in North American waters, Taub tells SheKnows. The stings happen when jellyfish inject their venom through tiny structures called nematocysts on their tentacles. The aim of any jellyfish sting treatment is to remove the nematocysts from the area of the sting and weaken the effects of the venom, he explains.
If you are stung, you need to start by removing the nematocysts. To do that, rinse the area with saltwater, gently scraping it with a flat object like a credit card. Don’t vigorously rub the area or flush it with cold water, Taub warns, as it could further injection of the venom and worsen the symptoms.
Next, apply vinegar to the sting if it’s available, and soak the area in hot water. If you’re at the beach, lifeguards are usually equipped to help with this first aid, he says.
“Prevention, as usual, is the best measure,” Taub adds. “Before entering the ocean, swimmers should scan the water for jellyfish and other dangers and inquire about hazards with lifeguards.”
What you wear in the water can also make a difference: long-sleeved Lycra shirts and wetsuits can provide some protection from jellyfish stings. If you’re going to be in an area prone to active jellyfish, you might want to consider using a jellyfish protection lotion, available as an over-the counter preparation, Taub says.
Based on his own experience with jellyfish stings, Taub has found it helpful to apply a nonprescription hydrocortisone cream and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) spray to the area and take an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, Claritin or Zyrtec, which may also help with itching and swelling.
But what about pee? Is urine really the antidote for jellyfish venom?
“No, urinating on the area doesn’t help!” Taub says, which proves once and for all that Joey Tribbiani is not a reliable source of medical information.