Stingray stings are a common dive and beach related injury. Let me explain the causes and prevention and treatment options.
Stingray season on Florida beaches runs approximately between the months of April and October. It is during these warm watered months that these sea creatures come into the shallow Florida Gulf Coast waters to mate. Activity and energy frighten these shy, bottom dwellers. They cannot see well and rely on electro-sensors/vibrations to let them know they are in danger. Stingrays generally do not attack aggressively. When threatened, their primary reaction is to swim away. However, when attacked by predators or stepped on, the stinger in their tail is whipped up and used as a weapon.
What can I do to prevent being stung by a stingray? To prevent a painful sting, it is important to do the “Stingray Shuffle”. This is done by shuffling your feet across the sandy ocean floor as you walk in the water. This way you alert the stingray of your presence. They will uncover themselves and swim away. Stingrays don’t want to be stepped on any more than you want to be stung! Another way to prevent yourself from being stung is to wear protective wading boots (water booties)!
Stingray injury care is mainly directed at monitoring the injured person’s vital signs, providing pain relief, and treating the wound.
There is no antivenom (antidote) to stingray toxin. The venom is a protein and is broken down by heat, so placing the injured area in water as hot as the person can tolerate (113°F or 45°C) for 30-90 minutes can dramatically relieve the pain. The old wives’ tale of urinating on the area helps because of the warmth, not the urine itself.
Normally the issue is the wound and the pain associated with it. Most Urgent Cares, like ours, can handle such an injury. The wound will be numbed if needed. It will be cleaned, and any foreign matter removed. Injuries to tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and other body structures will be determined. If it has been more than 5 years since the last tetanus vaccine, one should be given.
Antibiotics are often given because the wound is contaminated with bacteria from the stinger and from the seawater. People generally do well after a Stingray Sting with effective treatment, since a majority of the cases are mild.
In severe cases, you may experience anaphylaxis type allergic reaction, respiratory distress, paralysis, and severe bleeding in which case 911 should be called for emergency services. Skin ulceration can cause secondary bacterial or fungal infections to develop in the wound. In rare cases, the sting can be serious or fatal if major organs are injured. This may occur during deep sea diving or like what happened to the beloved Steve Irwin.
See our Physicians and P.A.s at Doctors Urgent Care for the highest quality medical evaluation and treatment. We are familiar with and treat Stingray injuries regularly.
David B. Dean, MD
Doctors Urgent Care