Stingray sting: the golden rule is to never put ice on the wound | Photo: Nyman/Creative Commons

Have you ever been getting stung by a stingray? Act quickly and effectively to reduce the pain and extract the venom from the wounded area. Learn the first aid basics for stingray stings.

The stingray is a cartilaginous fish, and it is part of the shark's family tree. These animals use their ten-inch barbed stingers to inject venom into their victims.

There are around 220 different species of stingrays. The majority lives in saltwater habitats, but there are also a few species swimming in freshwater rivers and lakes.

Where can stingrays be found? These angular and flat swimmers are frequently found in the warm and shallow waters of tropical and subtropical coastal regions. California, US East Coast, South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Africa are their natural habitat.

So, how does a stingray sting? In most cases, they hide in the ocean's floor. And because stingrays live close to the surf, buried in the sand, surfers, fishermen, and beachgoers are regular victims of their sneaky defensive actions.

In fact, stingrays never attack; they just protect themselves from disturbing external forces, i.e., when provoked or stepped on. The bad news is that stingray stings are extremely painful. In most times, the pain peaks in between one and two hours, and could eventually last for two days if not treated quickly and appropriately.

A stingray sting is rarely fatal, but it usually leaves between one and four barbs/spines on the victim's wound. You'll notice you've been injured because of the cuts and lacerations on your skin, and the blood coming out of the wound.

Stingray: its venom causes severe pain, lacerations and cuts | Photo: Schipul/Creative Commons

The victims are mostly injured in their feet and lower legs, but the hands, arms, and torso can also be hurt if in contact with the animal's venomous spine; in a way, it's similar to a weever fish sting.

The common stingray sting symptoms are severe pain, swelling, and bleeding in the wounded area, sweating, a change in skin color, dizziness, weakness, low nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, palpitations, blood pressure, shortness of breath, muscle cramps, and arrhythmia.

The treatment is quite simple, fast and efficient. Ideally, you should immediately see a doctor for medical care as soon as possible, but if that's not possible, do the following:

1. Rinse the wound with fresh water;
2. Immerse the wound in hot water to relieve the pain - heat destroys the toxin;
3. Ask someone to use tweezers to remove the stingray stingers;
4. Clean the wound with soap and a soft cloth;
5. If the wound is still bleeding, apply pressure on it for a few minutes;
6. Don't cover the wounded area - let it get some fresh air;
7. Scan the wound for possible infections;

One of the most common mistakes is to put ice on the wound. Don't do that. Otherwise, the venom will circulate faster, and the pain may become severe and unbearable.

If infections appear or pain persists, do seek medical assistance. You may need to take antibiotics and/or apply healing ointments.

To avoid or reduce the chances of getting stung by a stingray, shuffle your feet in the sand and slide them along the bottom of the ocean if you need to move around, and the stingray will move out of the way.