MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: What is produced which causes stinging from stinging nettles?

Date: Sun Dec 13 08:33:14 1998
Posted By: Mark Madachik, PD, Heartland Farm/Nursery
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 910897655.Me

Hi..Sorry this took so long...The toxin injected when you are stung is 
made up of a VERY complex soup of proteins that cause allergic reactions 
within the recipients system.  Living near the Chesapeake bay often gives 
me first hand experience with Sea nettles. The sting of a Sea nettle 
though painful is seldom life threatening. 
 The stinging jellyfish which makes the Chesapeake Bay so inhospitable in 
the summer is the sea nettle, Chtysaora quinquecirrha. While sea nettles 
occur from Cape Cod south along the U.S. East Coast, Caribbean and Gulf of 
Mexico they inhabit the Bay in numbers unequaled elsewhere. They are found 
most abundantly in the tributaries of the middle Bay where salinities are 
between 10 and 20 parts per thousand. At those salinities, they are white 
in color. In the southern Bay, where salinities are higher, they often 
have red/maroon markings on the long central tentacles and on the swimming 
bell, or medusa.
The tentacles of the sea nettle contain millions of microscopic stinging 
cells called nematocysts that inject toxins to capture and paralyze prey 
as well as to defend the jellyfish from would-be predators. When a swimmer 
brushes against a tentacle, the resulting sting is painful and annoying. 
Lightweight protective clothing, like a Lycra "swim skin" or panty hose, 
or a layer of petroleum jelly spread on bare skin will protect a swimmer 
against stings. 
There are several things that you can do if you get stung. If bits or 
pieces of tentacles are still on the skin, pour alcohol or baby powder on 
the area. Alcohol will stabilize the nematocyst so that it will not be 
triggered. Powders do the same by drying the cells out. Without such 
treatment, tentacles which are disturbed may release additional 
nematocysts, causing additional irritation and swelling.

Next, apply diluted ammonia, sodium bicarbonate, vinegar or meat 
tenderizer to the area to relieve pain. Meat tenderizer is one of the best 
sources of relief from stings. Add a small amount of water to the meat 
tenderizer to make a paste and smear it on the inflamed area. Meat 
tenderizer is an enzyme which breaks down proteins. Jellyfish venom is 
made of protein and is consequently destroyed by the meat tenderizer. The 
active ingredient in the meat tenderizer seems to be papain. I have a 
friend that has used a slice of papaya on stings and swears that relief is 
almost many people run around with a papaya in their 
pocket.   Hope this has been of some help...Mark

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