July 22, 2011 at 4:12 PM ET
This could prevent some awkward beach encounters this summer: Turns out, urine does not ease the pain from jellyfish stings -- regardless of what your "Friends" told you.
Actually, you're better off using vinegar -- or, if that's not in your beach bag, ocean water -- as urine just doesn't have the right chemical makeup to neutralize the sting, reports The Telegraph today quoting head of British Red Cross first aid Joe Mulligan.
“If people have been stung, they need to get out of the water to avoid getting stung again. Once out, slowly pouring seawater over the sting will help ease the pain.
“Doing the same thing with vinegar can be even more effective as the acid helps neutralise the jellyfish sting. But, unless you’re near a chip shop, seawater will probably be easier to find.”
Emergency physician Dr. Ryan Stanton, who's spent some time in Australia and is familiar with the country's venomous box jellyfish, agrees. The efficacy hierarchy here is this: vinegar, isopropyl alcohol, ocean water -- then urine, explains Stanton, now the medical director at UK HealthCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, Ky.
The acidic chemicals in the vinegar, alcohol and even the seawater neutralize the sting and deactivate the nemotocysts -- the stinging cells that inject the creature's venom into your skin. The problem with urine, Stanton explains, is that it's just too variable: If it's concentrated, it may work OK, but from a well-hydrated person, it won't be much different than plain old water.
Next, rid your skin of the nematocysts. Wash them off with saltwater, or use something with a well-defined edge (like a credit card) to remove the cells from your skin.
In Australia, Stanton says, every lifeguard stand has a bottle of vinegar, as do many in Hawaii. But that's likely not the case at most American beaches.
"Basically, I recommend if you're going to a beach, it's not a bad idea to take a little bottle of vinegar; it's super cheap and it can be very helpful," says Stanton, who's also a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians. "But I would not recommend that you go to a beach and start urinating on each other."
Follow Melissa Dahl on Twitter: @melissadahl