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It is a common myth that, if you're stung by a jellyfish, then pouring urine on the wound is an effective way to treat the injury or ease the pain.

That belief is deeply entrenched in the American popular culture. So deeply, in fact, that in Survivor: Marquesas, one of the contestants asked one of his teammates to pee on his wound to relieve the pain after being stung (though, this time, it was sea urchin rather than a jellyfish).

Is there any truth to that belief?

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From The Telegraph - Use seawater or vinegar to treat jellyfish stings, not urine:

... according to the British Red Cross, the widespread belief that urine can lessen the pain of venom injected by the marine creatures is misplaced.

Joe Mulligan, head of first aid at the British Red Cross, said: “A sting from a jellyfish can be extremely painful, but trying to treat it with urine isn’t going to make your day any better."

Urine just doesn’t have the right chemical make-up to solve the problem.... slowly pouring seawater over the sting will help ease the pain. Doing the same thing with vinegar can be even more effective as the acid helps neutralise the jellyfish sting.



From Scientific American - Fact or Fiction?: Urinating on a Jellyfish Sting is an Effective Treatment:

Urine can actually aggravate the jellyfish's stingers into releasing more venom.

The concentration of salts and other compounds people have in their urine changes. If it is too dilute it will be similar to freshwater and cause those stingers to fire.

Other liquids and compounds, however, can help. Most stings in North American waters can be assuaged by vinegar, or 5 percent acetic acid.

For stings from a few species, Cyanea capillata and Chysaora quinquecirrha, a baking soda and seawater paste is even better.

"Urine is worthless," says Joseph Burnett, a dermatologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, who is part of the school's Consortium of Jellyfish Stings, which tracks jellyfish injuries worldwide.



From ABC News - Old Wives' Tale? Urine as Jellyfish Sting Remedy:

Urine has not been scientifically proven to help in jellyfish stings, said Dr. Paul Auerbach, an emergency physician at Stanford University Hospital and an expert on jellyfish stings.

The best thing to use is acetic acid, or regular household white vinegar, Auerbach said.

... the beaches of Australia are lined with vinegar stands, says Dr. Suzanne Shepherd, a travel medicine specialist and emergency physician at the University of Pennsylvania.

Shepherd also recommends avoiding fresh water to treat a jellyfish sting because it could just cause the remaining nematocysts to fire.


More:

  • Presumably the nematocysts fire because, well, they're being pissed on. – Larry OBrien May 2 '13 at 23:07
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Here is a link to a pretty thorough about.com article: Will urine relieve the pain of a jellyfish sting?:

The article suggests that while urine may work in some circumstances, it can also cause the nematocysts in the wound to inject venom, which will actually make the pain worse.

Which brings us to urine. Urine consists of water and waste products of the body's blood stream, which includes ammonia -- the reason for its legendary use. Depending on the person -- and whether he or she is dehydrated, diabetic, on a protein diet, or dealing with myriad other conditions -- urine may or may not be about as good as fresh water. In fact, urine contains so much fresh water that stranded folks can drink their own urine to survive (don't worry, I'm cringing at the idea, too). Since we know fresh water will often make nematocysts fire, the logical conclusion is that urine will do the same thing.

Urine has about a 50/50 track record on the Internet. Many anonymous bloggers sing the praises of this readily available wonder tonic, but research just hasn't supported the claims. Others tell stories of urine not working at all. I've yet to read any supposed first-hand claims that urine made the pain of a jellyfish sting worse.

It seems that acid can neutralize the venom that is released by the nematocysts, but urine does not always have the required acidity to get the job done.

Additional References (from the linked article):

Beadnell, C.E., et al."Management of a major box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) sting. Lessons from the first minutes and hours." Medical Journal of Australia. 4 May 1992 PMID: 1352619

Buddin, Elizabeth. "Jellyfish." Unk publish date. Sea Science. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 23 Oct 2007

Fenner, P.J., et al."First aid treatment of jellyfish stings in Australia. Response to a newly differentiated species." Medical Journal of Australia. 5 Apr 1995 PMID: 8469205

O'Reilly, G.M., et al."Prospective study of jellyfish stings from tropical Australia, including the major box jellyfish Chironex fleckeri." Medical Journal of Australia. 3 Dec 2001 PMID: 11837877

  • +1 for the great answer, especially menitioning the ammonia content and required acidity. – Monkey Tuesday Mar 30 '11 at 18:32
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    if urine contains amonia it won't be acidic, it'll be a base :) The quote btw directly contradicts the answer to another question here which concluded drinking your own urine is a very bad idea. – jwenting Apr 18 '11 at 13:55
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    @jwenting That is incorrect. If urine contained only ammonia it would be a base. Urine contains more than just ammonia though, and is typically acidic. The pH of urine typically ranges from moderately acidic to neutral. If it is neutral, it is mostly water and will likely make the problem worse (as I said above). Thus, if urine has the required acidity, it may help. But that's a risk I wouldn't take. – Luke Apr 19 '11 at 16:21
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    About.com is not a reputable source... – Sklivvz Jun 8 '12 at 18:52
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    @Sklivz - this particular article does reference its sources, though (and, at first glance, they seem reputable). – Oliver_C Jun 9 '12 at 10:12
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No there is no truth to this myth. In fact, urine can actually cause the nematocysts embedded in the skin to release more venom, as discussed in this paper:

Disarming the box-jellyfish: nematocyst inhibition in Chironex fleckeri. by Hartwick R, Callanan V, Williamson J., Med J Aust. 1980 Jan 12;1(1):15-20.

The best treatment for jellyfish stings is in fact ordinary vinegar.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Ping: can you (or anyone with access) add an excerpt please? – Sklivvz Jun 8 '12 at 18:56
  • I believe Mythbusters determined vinegar can help. – Ryathal Jun 8 '12 at 20:44

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