Sea Stings in Children: What to Do in Each Case?

The severity of sea stings may vary according to the causative agent and the victim's immunity. Therefore, knowing how to handle each case is key to the prognosis. Read more about it here.
Sea Stings in Children: What to Do in Each Case?

Last update: 29 August, 2022

Stings in the sea are frequent when children are swimming in the ocean or walking on the sand. Depending on the case, the intensity will vary, but in some circumstances, sea stings can alter the course of your vacation.

The management and care to be implemented in each situation depend on the type of sting, the causative agent, and the immune response of the child. Therefore, we’re going to tell you which are the actions that you can’t ignore according to the clinical picture that your child presents. Keep reading!

Care measures for sea stings in children

Although they occur relatively frequently, it’s important not to underestimate the injuries caused by sea stings. For example, when a sting or thorn remains in the skin, the clinical picture can worsen over time and can put an end to your vacation fun.

Fortunately, most stings occur in salt water and aren’t usually serious or fatal. However, some of the uncomfortable symptoms they produce are as follows:

  • Burning
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Erythema (redness) or bleeding in the injured area

Below, we’ll briefly discuss some characteristics of the most common injuries that affect children at the beach. Take note!

Jellyfish sting

A baby bending over at the beach to touch a jellyfish.
Jellyfish attract the attention of children and adults alike, as their gelatinous appearance makes them look like an inert object. However, contact with jellyfish can injure the skin of humans and animals.

As a general rule, try to keep children from swimming in waters where jellyfish or other sea creatures are present. If you’re already in the sea and detect their presence, get out cautiously and as quickly as possible.

According to a publication by Wilderness Environmental Medicine, while some jellyfish are virtually harmless, others can produce intense local reactions (stinging and pain) or more generalized and severe ones.

The care measures advised for jellyfish stings vary according to the species involved. However, in any case, scratching or rubbing the affected skin area is discouraged, as this exacerbates the local inflammatory reaction.

Immediately after the sting, the skin shouldn’t be cleaned with fresh water, as this solution is hypotonic and this favors the elimination of the remains of the jellyfish venom. In fact, in the first instance, it’s best to block the action of the toxin with acetic acid or 10% vinegar.

Then, if any tentacle is observed, it should be removed using gloves and tweezers, followed by the application of a topical antiseptic 3 times a day for 3 days.

The stings of whiting-pout or spider fish

Although the beach isn’t the usual habitat of spider fish, this species can appear buried in the sand, as it’s very good at hiding in its environment. Spider fish bites cause intense pain and local swelling, although the effects can spread within minutes.

Injury to the victim’s skin is generated when the victim accidentally steps on the back of the fish, which is partially buried in the sand. This pressure stimulates the aggression of three barbs, which penetrate the victim’s dermis.

Once the sting has occurred, it’s best to rinse the injured skin with salt water, remove the spines with tweezers and gloves, and apply local heat. In case the pain continues, it’s a good idea to take oral analgesics, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.

Sea urchin stings

While the vast majority of sea urchins aren’t poisonous, some of the recommendations provided by The Journal of Dermatological Treatment for their stings include the following measures:

  1. Get out of the water and remove the remains of thorns with tweezers, never with fingers or teeth.
  2. Apply vinegar to help remove the thorns.
  3. If the pain persists after having removed the visible foreign bodies from the skin, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out that there are thorns left in the affected area. The barbs often break within the thickness of the dermis, which generates chronic pain and can lead to infection.

Anemone stings

This type of invertebrate animal is very similar to jellyfish. In fact, simple contact with its tentacles causes the development of welts, itching, and localized erythema.

Once the sting occurs, it’s best to wash the wound with the same seawater and ingest an oral antihistamine to combat itching.

Sea tomato stings

This marine animal is found in the rocky regions of the coasts and direct contact with it causes itching and erythema on the skin of children, almost instantly. Although very rare, severe allergic reactions to its venom deserve consideration.

Manta ray stings

A manta ray swimming on the sea floor.
Manta rays can swim in shallow water and may even be partially covered by sand on the shore. When accidentally stepped on, they defend themselves with their tail spines and inoculate their venom into the skin.

According to a publication of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine (SEMES), the stingray sting is caused by accidentally stepping on the animal. This is due to the fact that the stingray defends itself with the spines of its tail and inoculates the children’s skin with its venom.

In general, the injury caused by the stingray barb usually bleeds and leaves an irregular surface on the skin. Although the pain felt by the child is immediate, it usually subsides spontaneously within 6 to 48 hours. However, specific care must be taken to ensure that the remains of the poisonous thorns don’t remain in the skin in order to avoid infection. In addition, vaccination against tetanus, antibiotics, or, in extreme cases, stitches in the wound may be required.

The importance of going to the doctor in case of sea stings of any sort

In conclusion, in case of any sting that occurs in the sea to children, tourniquets or suctioning of wounds shouldn’t be performed. Always keep in mind that the severity of the situation will depend on the venom inoculated and the response of each child’s organism to it.

It’s best to go to the nearest emergency center so that local specialists can determine the most appropriate measures to adopt in each case. Especially if the sting requires urgent treatment or further medical attention.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Picaduras de animales marinos. [Internet] Disponible en:
  • Lakkis NA, Maalouf GJ, Mahmassani DM. Jellyfish Stings: A Practical Approach. Wilderness Environ Med. 2015 Sep;26(3):422-9. doi: 10.1016/j.wem.2015.01.003. Epub 2015 Apr 29. PMID: 25935311.
  • Schwartz Z, Cohen M, Lipner SR. Sea urchin injuries: a review and clinical approach algorithm. J Dermatolog Treat. 2021 Mar;32(2):150-156. doi: 10.1080/09546634.2019.1638884. Epub 2019 Jul 11. PMID: 31259638.
  • Madio B, King GF, Undheim EAB. Sea Anemone Toxins: A Structural Overview. Mar Drugs. 2019 Jun 1;17(6):325. doi: 10.3390/md17060325. PMID: 31159357; PMCID: PMC6627431.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.