Summer is here! For many of us, this will involve time spent in or around the ocean, barbecues with friends, and long nights of festivities. There is one sure fire way to ruin this: Come across a nasty in the ocean that will sting, bite or barb you. Luckily for you, this is a crash course in how to treat some of the more common afflictions that you might encounter in the ocean. Some of them are likely, and some of them are statistically highly unlikely. Still, forewarned is forearmed!
Bluebottles - Likelihood rating: 9
A bluebottle is not actually a jellyfish. It is actually a floating colony of different organisms. That doesn’t change the fact that it stings like hell. You can actually come into contact with the ‘bottle’ part without harm, it is the tentacles that you need to avoid. The more contact you have with the tentacle, the more exposure to the venom and the greater the pain. Sometimes, you might not realise that you have been stung by a bluebottle. You will experience burning pain that can last up to 60 minutes, a red line across your skin where you came into contact with the tentacle, and blisters that can eventuate into scars. If so, here is your treatment plan:
- Immerse the site of the wound in hot water. Ideally, it should be about as hot as you can handle without burning yourself. If you can, stay under the water for 20 minutes.
- If hot water is not an option (you are most likely at a beach after all), then a cold compress is the next best option. This could be an ice pack from an Australia pharmacy, or even just a bag of peas from a supermarket if nothing else is available. Like the hot water, keep the wound covered for 20 minutes.
- Give the wound some relief from the hot water / cold compress and repeat three or so times.
- There are a number of different topical creams that can be purchased from an Australia pharmacy that will provide extra pain relief. It is worth grabbing one of these before the fact. You will be forever grateful.
Note: Don’t use vinegar. This was the old wisdom but it can actually exacerbate the pain.
Oysters - Likelihood rating: 8
These are delicious on a plate, but not so great on your feet or hands. Oysters have a special ability to slice through flesh like nothing else, and it can cause some fairly colourful illnesses as a result. On the one hand, they need to be treated like any other laceration wound, but there is an extra element of the bacteria which enters your system once you have been cut. It is essential that you remove any and all fragments of oyster that might be floating around the wound. Failing to do so will trap a whole lot of bacteria into your body. Once you are confident there are no shards still in the wound, you must clean the wound with some kind of disinfectant. This will reduce your likelihood of picking up anything unsavoury.
- Vibrio vulnificus. This is rare, but incredibly serious. 20% of people with this illness will die in the first 48 hours of contracting the disease, and the majority of the survivors will lose a limb. Cleaning out that oyster wound is not just a matter of cleanliness, it can be the difference between life and death. If you start developing the following symptoms, seek medical care urgently:
- Fever, nausea, stomach cramping
- Diarrhoea that is more watery than usual
- Infection of the wound site that begins to spread to other areas of the body.
Octopus - Likelihood rating: 1
We are starting to get into the less likely encounters now. For the sake of the discussion, we will cover the most lethal kind: the Blue-Ringed Octopus. These dangerous little guys tend to live in rockpools, and they tend to camouflage well because they only show their blue rings when anxious. Small hands may end up touching one without realising it is anything dangerous. For this reason, you would be well advised to keep away from rock pools without some fairly thick gloves and booties. The symptoms for a blue ringed octopus bite include:
- A burning or prickling feeling at the site of the wound
- Breathing difficulties
- Swallowing becomes difficult
- Blurred vision
- The inability to speak
There are very serious consequences, ranging from losing consciousness to death, and so your actions in the immediate matter. Not all bites will contain the same level of venom, but in general, children and smaller people are at higher risk. As soon as you suspect a bite, you should:
- Commence first aid: DRSABCD
- Keep the victim still
- Put a wide elastic bandage on the site of the wound, wrapping it the same way you might bind a sprained ankle. Use a splint (available at an Australia pharmacy), or if you don’t have one, a straight stick will suffice.
Stingrays - Likelihood rating: .000001
The death of Steve Irwin was a shock to us all, not least of all because he was one of the two people globally who die from a stingray each year. In general, they are both intelligent and playful, and will only attack if backed into a corner and afraid for their lives. It takes them six months to grow another barb, so they are very reluctant to render themselves defenceless if they can help it. Even then, they are unlikely to deliver a lethal blow. Irwin made the fatal mistake of pulling the barb out which sent his body into shock. Like any puncture wound, the first piece of advice is to leave it in there for a doctor to remove. If you are stung, soak the area of the sting in hot water, and be ready to endure the pain for the next little while. The pain usually peaks after an hour and a half. Using anti-inflammatories will help reduce the discomfort.