Marine Stings and Scrapes in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

There are many kinds of stings, scrapes, and cuts a child can get from being in the ocean.

Jellyfish stings leave raised, red marks called welts. The welts may last for 1 to 2 weeks. Your child may also get an itchy skin rash. This can appear 1 to 4 weeks after the sting.

Portuguese man-of-war stings make a red line with small white sores. In severe cases, they cause blisters and welts. These can look like a string of beads.

Seabather's eruption is a type of rash. You can get it after a sting by a jellyfish or sea anemone larvae. It can be itchy and annoying. But it usually goes away without treatment in 10 to 14 days.

Coral scrapes and cuts may take weeks or months to heal completely.

There are different things you can do to care for your child at home. You may need to wash the sting or scrape. Or you may need to change a bandage. Your doctor may give your child medicine to take. Or your child may get medicine to put on the affected area.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

Pain medicine for any bite or sting

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.

Jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war stings

  • To help with itching, give your child an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Claritin). Hydrocortisone cream may also help. Do not give antihistamines to a child younger than age 6 unless you have checked with your doctor first.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin. This may help relieve pain.
  • If your doctor told you how to care for your child's sting, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.

Seabather's eruption

  • To help with itching, give your child an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Claritin). Hydrocortisone cream may also help. Do not give antihistamines to a child younger than age 6 unless you have checked with your doctor first.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin. This may help relieve pain.
  • Wash the rash with soap and water daily.

Coral scrapes and cuts

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your child's wound, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child's tongue or throat is swelling.
  • Your child has breathing problems or wheezing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is dizzy or light-headed or feels like he or she may faint.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness around the area.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • The sting or scrape starts to bleed, and blood soaks through the bandage. Oozing small amounts of blood is normal.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if the rash, sting, or scrape is not getting better each day.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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