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The stinging truth 

Increased jellyfish presence leads to antidote research

This summer on Tybee Island was filled with record–breaking high temperatures and record–breaking amounts of reported jellyfish stings.

Of course, with the increasing numbers of jellyfish in the water and the increasing number of people on the beach because of the high temperatures, this all makes sense. But with 10,247 reported jellyfish stings to date, the combination is a disaster.

A scientist at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, Dick Lee, says that there is no known reason for why the jellyfish are increasing, only theories. But they do seem to be increasing.

Global warming is one of the many supposed causes, but Lee doesn’t think that global warming is necessarily to blame.
“It’s pretty controversial, actually. But, there are a fair number of scientific discussions of an increase of jellyfish in the world...I don’t think the data is overwhelming [to support] that global warming is causing the jellyfish increase, but I do agree that the jellyfish are increasing,” he says.

But, there is something that can take some of the sting, quite literally, out of these facts; it’s a product that even the lifeguards on Tybee Island use that’s offered by Coastal Solutions, Inc. called Jellyfish Squish.

Coastal Solutions, Inc. is a company based here in Savannah that was founded by Chip Grayson, a Savannah native, in 2007. Jellyfish Squish launched in May 2008 and was the company’s first product.

Grayson explains that after a severe sting his daughter received when she was a little girl, he stared thinking about ways to ease the pain caused by a jellyfish sting.

“It’s been in the back of my mind over the years, seeing the kids suffer [and seeing] people trying all kinds of different remedies which I knew couldn’t possibly work. You don’t have to be a chemist to understand that ammonia or vinegar’s not going to solve a problem of something that’s discharged toxin under the skin,” he says.

That’s what motivated him to create Jellyfish Squish. But, how does it work? Well, it doesn’t use vinegar, ammonia, or any other household item that’s said to rid the sting; it uses lidocaine.

Lidocaine is often used as an anaesthetic and it “shuts down nerve receptors and prevents them from sending pain signals,” says Grayson. “It’s water soluble, so it penetrates the skin in about 30 seconds.”

A study that Dick Lee and the late Peter Verity completed proves that this product really does all that it claims to do. The study tested lidocaine against chemicals that are traditionally used to treat jellyfish stings like ammonia, meat tenderizer, baking soda and salt water.

The scientists used tentacles from three different types of jellyfish commonly known as sea nettle, sea wasp and Portuguese man–of–war to sting themselves on the arm and treat the sting with the various chemicals to test which one was most effective at relieving the pain.

“On a jellyfish tentacle there are these little cells, nematocysts they’re called, and there’s a little curled up dart in there. When some kind of irritation causes it to discharge, it discharges from this little hole and hits your skin, and there’s some sting to it,” Lee says.

The tentacles also leave behind nematocysts on the skin that don’t discharge until aggravated. Lidocaine can fight against the nematocysts that are already stinging and the ones that have yet to discharge.

“An interesting thing with lidocaine is not only did it bring relief, it forces your nerves not to send a signal that there’s pain,” says Lee. “Lidocaine also anesthetizes the jellyfish tentacles so that the ones that are on the skin that have not been discharged will not discharge. I think that the two [combined] is why the relief is so powerful.”

So, what are other household remedies actually doing for your sting? Nothing. In fact, if anything, they are only making it worse.

“After testing vinegar, ammonia, lidocaine, sea water, baking soda and meat tenderizer, we agreed that there was no relief at all from anything but lidocaine. In fact, I would say it was just the opposite. Under the microscope, the vinegar actually stimulated more nematocysts to fire. So actually, the pain was worse with vinegar,” says Lee.

Jellyfish Squish is sold not only in local pharmacies, beach stores and sporting goods stores, but in stores like these nationwide. You can also order online at www.coastalsolutionsinc.com.

For more info on the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography visit: www.skio.usg.edu

 

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Augusta Statz

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