LIFE

Bluebottle Sting Treatment Has Moved On So Forget Vinegar And Piss

If someone offers to pee on you, they're not helping.

09/11/2016 10:21 AM AEDT | Updated 10/11/2016 1:26 AM AEDT
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Morgan Talbot / Australian Museum

The agony of a bluebottle sting can be made worse by the home remedies thought to treat it, so before you hit the beach this summer, make sure you know what's effective and what's not.

Because vinegar is out and heat is in.

How to treat a bluebottle sting

Wash the tentacle off the body with plenty of seawater and pick any remaining tentacles off with your fingers. Then:

Best: Submerge the area in the hottest water you can tolerate.

Good: Apply an ice pack.

Bad: Applying vinegar, urine, bleach and alcohol are all ineffective, as is rubbing the sting with sand or a towel.

Surf Life Saving spokesperson Liam Howitt told The Huffington Post Australia there were 10,980 marine stings reported last year in NSW alone.

"That makes it one of the most common beach injuries we see," Howitt said.

"It's a large part of our jobs and we encourage people who have been stung to make themselves known to the life savers or the life guards."

He said volunteers had come across all manner of home remedies for bluebottle stings.

"They've seen it all over the years," he said.

Edwina Pickles / Fairfax Media
Bluebottles can still sting you when they're on the beach.

"They've had people who swear by urine or another one is pouring soft drink over the sting. It probably has a lot to do with the placebo effect because it's been shown to be completely ineffective.

"For a long time, vinegar was the accepted course of treatment, and it still is for tropical marine stings, but not bluebottles."

Your fingers are some of the toughest skin on your body so the sting doesn't tend to be a problem.Liam Howitt

He said the first step for anyone with a sting was to remove the tentacles and then use your fingers to remove the tentacles.

"Your fingers are some of the toughest skin on your body so the sting doesn't tend to be a problem," he said.

"We wouldn't recommend children do this though."

Then, if you can submerge the area in hot water, that's ideal. If not, apply an ice pack.

What are bluebottles?

Here's the crazy thing, a bluebottle is not one animal.

Australian Museum search and discover coordinator David Bock told HuffPost Australia a bluebottle was actually a collection of organisms.

"It's like a floating city," Bock said.

Bill Rudman / Australian Museum
There are multiple organisms in this photo.

"It's actually a colony with four buds that all stick together -- you've got the floating sack, then there's the tentacles that sting and help catch the food, then the other parts are the bit that helps digest the food and the sex organs.

"It's kinda weird."

Indeed it is, and how do these floating cities mate?

"They're asexual, so they have both male and female parts and they deposit a fertile egg and it goes from there with different buds connecting."

He said all bluebottles' floats had a sail function and half of them blew slightly to the right while the other half went to the left.

"It's a bit of an evolutionary advantage because the wind will be blowing onshore and half will wash up and die on the beach but the other half will blow out to sea."

How does it feel to be stung?

"I've been stung before and it's not fun," Bock said.

"It's very much a burning sensation and it just goes on and on and on. I remember looking down my body and seeing a long red line with lots of little dots along it.

"If you look at one little tentacle under a microscope, you can see microscopic harpoons that are coiled and when it touches something, the harpoon shoots out.

"The tentacles stick to the prey -- usually a small fish -- and wrap it up so the mouth parts can get to work digesting it.

"When you're treating a sting, you want to make sure you don't encourage other harpoons to fire, making it worse."

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