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What to do if your child is stung by a bluebottle

Blue bottle sting fatalities are extremely rare. However, as with any venomous encounter, some children are vulnerable to severe reactions.

Most families enjoy spending long, lazy days at the beach during the holidays. The infamous bluebottle is one sea creature that can turn your happy beach outing into a misery of tears.

Bluebottles can be found all along the South African coast, and they are especially common during high tides. Bluebottles are frequently mistaken for jellyfish, but they can be distinguished by a small translucent blue bubble attached to some rather long and thin tentacles. Because their toxins differ, bluebottle and jellyfish stings are not treated the same way – so you must be able to identify a bluebottle when you see one!

A bluebottle sting is excruciatingly painful and causes red welts on the skin; if stung multiple times, the pain increases. The most intense pain usually goes away within an hour, but the welts can last up to three days. When the toxin travels to the lymph nodes, complications can occur, causing more severe pain. In these cases, medical attention is required. Blisters may also appear, and welts may leave scars that take years to fade completely.

How to help your child avoid stings

  • Never let your child swim if bluebottles are on the beach or in the water.
  • Remind your child to never touch bluebottles with their bare hands. While bluebottles die when they wash up on the beach, a sting can also be delivered by dead bluebottles and detached tentacles.
  • Remind your child never to jump on or attempt to “burst” bluebottles. They could be stung if some of those pieces land on their skin.

What to do if your child is stung by a bluebottle

  • Try to calm your child (which will be difficult because the sting is extremely painful).
  • Immediately rinse the affected area with seawater. Rinsing with fresh water causes the tentacles to release even more toxins!
  • Attempt to remove the tentacles. Cover your hands because the tentacles will sting you if you don’t. If you don’t have anything to cover your hands with, try this age-old trick: Apply some sea sand to the tentacles and gently rub the sand away.

Good to know: Never use vinegar to treat a bluebottle sting increases the amount of toxin released.

For pain relief

When you get home, soak the affected area for 30 minutes in warm water with a pinch of salt. Apply a topical anaesthetic cream.

Seek medical attention right away if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe and persistent pain
  • Worsening rash
  • Fever-like symptoms
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • A red streak between the lymph nodes and the sting
  • If the area becomes red, warm, and tender

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