How To Treat a Stingray Sting

Most of the Time Stings are Not Deadly

stingray
Stingray stings are rarely fatal, but they sure do hurt. Paul Kay / Getty Images

If you manage to surprise a stingray and get stung, you are likely to have a very painful reaction. It's going to hurt, but chances are that it won't kill you unless you get stung several times or in a vital spot. 

There is little known about the toxin in a stingray sting, other than it is protein based and might be dangerous. Australian conservationist Steve Irwin was killed in 2006 when a stingray struck at him several times, hitting him in the chest.

It is widely accepted that his physical injuries, rather than any venom, resulted in his death.

Incidence of Stingray Stings

There are approximately 1,500 stingray stings in the United States every year. Most of the stingray stings happen on warm beaches in states like Florida or California. Conventional wisdom says to shuffle your feet to let the stingrays know you're coming. Of course, you're probably more likely to stub your toe on a rock than you are to step on a stingray.

Symptoms of Stingray Stings

  • extreme pain (can last as long as two days)
  • bleeding
  • swelling around the wound
  • redness or blue coloring around the wound
  • dizziness
  • muscle cramps or weakness
  • seizures
  • irregular pulse
  • low blood pressure

Because most stings come from stingrays that are stepped on by beachgoers, most injuries happen to feet and legs. Fishermen are the exception, getting stung on the arms more often than anywhere else. Regardless of the location of the sting, the treatment should be the same.

If you suspect a stingray sting, follow these steps:

Steps

  1. Stay Safe. Don't panic. Stingrays sting to scare us away. The sting is painful, but usually not very harmful. Patients should make their way back to the safety of shore by shuffling their feet (so they won't be stung again).
  2. Call 911. The patient of a stingray sting will need medical attention. Stingray stings are very painful and patients will at a minimum need to undergo treatment for pain control. Follow universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if you have it.
  1. Control any bleeding and follow basic first aid steps while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
  2. Clean the wound with soap and fresh, clean water. If that's not available, at least rinse the wound with copious amounts of sea water. 
  3. Remove small parts or barbs of the stinger with tweezers or pliers. Only remove stingers if emergency medical care will be significantly delayed. A long stinger would be considered an impaled object. DO NOT REMOVE STINGERS FROM THE CHEST OR ABDOMEN!
    Removing stingers can lead to severe bleeding. Remember to control bleeding from any tissue damage.
  4. If medical care will be significantly delayed, some of the toxins may be neutralized by immersing the cleaned wound in fresh, hot water (110 - 113 degrees Fahrenheit) or by placing towels soaked in hot water on the wound. Be careful not to make the water too hot and scald (burn) the victim.

Sources

Clark AT, Clark RF, Cantrell FL. A Retrospective Review of the Presentation and Treatment of Stingray Stings Reported to a Poison Control System. Am J Ther. 2016 Feb 5. [Epub ahead of print]

Clark RF, Girard RH, Rao D, Ly BT, Davis DP. Stingray Envenomation: A Retrospective Review of Clinical Presentation and Treatment in 119 Cases. J Emerg Med. 2007 Jul;33(1):33-7. Epub 2007 May 30.

Meyer PK. Stingray Injuries. Wilderness Environ Med. 1997 Feb;8(1):24-8. Review.

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