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Jellyfish have clear, jellylike bodies that are shaped like an umbrella. Tentacles containing stinging structures are used to capture prey, and they hang below the body. When a person comes in contact with the tentacles, the stinging structures pierce the skin and inject venom. Even dead jellyfish can sting, so do not touch the ones that have washed up on the beach.

The jellyfish in the picture is a stinging nettle. It is one of several types of jellyfish that are found along the coast of North Carolina.

Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia physalis): 
At first glance, the Portuguese Man o' War looks like the jellyfish, but both its body and tentacles hang below an air-filled bladder that keeps it afloat on the surface of the water. It also has stinging structures that can injure a person even after it is dead.


Common Symptoms from Stings

red welts

Uncommon Symptoms from Stings

muscles spasms
stomach cramps
severe pain
heart palpitations


What to Do if Someone is Stung: 

  • While wearing gloves, remove the tentacles by rinsing them off or scraping them off with a credit card or dull knife. Do not remove them with your bare hands. Rinse the exposed area with saltwater if available. 
  • Put the affected area in hot water, as hot as tolerated, for 20 minutes.  You may need to add hot water if it cools. This may inactivate the venom and provide some pain relief.
  • Vinegar or a baking soda slurry, applied for 30 minutes, may help inactivate the venom if these are available.
  • Use steroid cream for persistent symptoms. 
  • If needed, take over-the-counter pain medicine such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen as directed in package instructions. 
  • Call 911 if you are having trouble breathing or having chest pain. 


Call NC Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or chat from this site for further treatment advice.

Last Updated on 12/19/2023