That sea nettle tentacle wrapped on your leg in the surf is sticking hundreds of tiny poisoned darts in your leg. In a second, you will scream. Then what?
There are any number of handy treatments for jellyfish stings, it turns out, including meat tenderizer; sugar; vinegar; plant juices; sodium bicarbonate; hot, dry sand; and urea (don't ask). And new, "sure-fire" products are on the shelf, including Jellyfish Squish.
But with the Lowcountry in the prime of its jellyfish summer, when swarms of "barbarous" invertebrate blobs can float toward the beach with any onshore breeze, it's important for beachgoers to keep one thing in mind:
Nothing is sure to do you much good.
"It's the same reason there's no real treatment for fire ant bites, wasps, bees, all the things that sting you," said Keith Borg, assistant professor of emergency medicine division at Medical University of South Carolina. By the time any treatment really takes effect, the toxin in the sting is wearing off.
Charleston County Parks and Recreation lifeguards keep spray bottles of vinegar stashed. Isle of Palms firefighters are testing out Jellyfish Squish alongside their standard application of baking soda and alcohol. And many recommend — as a last resort — burying the stung limb in the hot, loose sand to suffocate the stingers.
But there's one constant:
"It's still going to sting," said Eric Stewart, assistant manager for the beach parks.
Borg said acetic acid in vinegar and Lidocaine in products like Jellyfish Squish are topical anesthetics; they numb the skin for a little while. But the quickest fix is to keep an eye out; dodge the blobs. Only a small percentage of the bathers along any beach will rub up against a jellyfish.
For the cautious, there are quirky suggestions: Cover arms and legs with spandex when you swim. Or try panty hose.