To Pee or Not to Pee: Does Urine Really Ease the Pain of Jellyfish Stings?

The science behind the rather low-tech cure.

Image courtesy of Getty Images.

The question: I have no plans of peeing on myself anytime soon. But—just in case—will urine kill the pain of a jellyfish sting?

The expert: Angel A. Yanagihara, Ph.D., principal investigator at Pacific Cnidarian Research Laboratory, University of Hawaii at Manoa

The verdict: Yes and no. (That's helpful, right?)

That's because you are actually dealing with two separate mind-numbingly painful problems with any jellyfish sting, Yanagihara says. First, the umpteen-thousand microscopic tubules imbedded in your skin have already spewed a ton of venom. And second, they are ready to unleash even more into you.

Peeing on yourself—or a friend, lover, or really unfortunate stranger in need—only helps with the latter issue. Urine has a naturally low pH, which inhibits the cells from discharging more venom (and can also remove any whole tentacles that are hooked into your skin). While vinegar (another popular treatment option) also has a low pH, urine does have two serious advantages: It's warm and readily available.

Why does that matter? Well, Yanagihara's research has shown that soaking in hot water can help deactivate and even allow venom that's already wrecking havoc under your epidermis to seep out.

So, yes, peeing on a sting is a good on-the-beach, keep-it-from-getting-worse treatment, but once you pee on yourself, make a beeline for a steaming bathtub, she suggests.

And if you're too shy to whip it out on the beach, just never, under any circumstance, try rubbing, pressure, or compresses (seriously, you're just pushing the venom deeper into your skin!) or using an EpiPen, Yanagihara warns. As soon as you're stung, your body reacts by pumping huge amounts of epinephrine and norepinephrine through your bloodstream. Add any more and you could OD—or just not feel any extra relief.

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