Tips on Staying Safe at the Beach

July 23, 2018
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The beach is one of the best things this area has to offer and I encourage everyone to enjoy it, but also to stay safe while doing so. Sea creatures can be fascinating, but some can also be dangerous. It is best to be aware of those dangers and seek medical attention when necessary.

Jellyfish stings

With these warmer summer months, we can encounter jellyfish pretty frequently. They have stinging cells on their tentacles and they can be painful if you come in contact with one. If you get stung, remove any tentacles and visible nematocysts, barbs that can stick in your skin. Apply household vinegar if available, or immerse in warm water. Avoid vigorous rubbing and cold packs as they may cause nematocysts to fire. Monitor loved ones who have been stung for allergic reactions.

Sea Lice/seabathers eruption

Microscopic jellyfish larvae in the water can cause an itchy rash or red bumps in areas covered by bathing suits/clothes. Treat with vinegar or a warm shower if you know you’ve been exposed. You can also treat the rash and itching with hydrocortisone and an antihistamine. Make sure you wash all bathing suits/clothes in hot water to make sure no sea lice remain.


If someone is stung by a stingray, immerse the wound in hot water and remove any visible barb. Seek medical treatment. The wound needs to be checked for foreign body and usually an antibiotic is started. Both jellyfish and stingrays can create allergic reactions in some people, so in the cases of shortness of breath or severe swelling it is best to call 911.


Any cut that occurs in saltwater warrants care. A particularly bad bacteria, Vibrio, lives in warm saltwater and is often carried by oysters and other shellfish. It can cause a severe skin infection and can even gastrointestinal illness. If you have an open wound or cut, don’t risk it and just avoid warm saltwater until your wound is healed. If you sustain an injury in the water such as a cut from an oyster shell, the wound needs to first be irrigated with fresh water and you need to be evaluated by your doctor to see if you need antibiotic and a tetanus booster. Oyster shells are also brittle and can leave tiny fragments in your wound, so they really need to be evaluated by a professional.

Swim safely

Stay out of the water if you do not know how to swim. If you decide to swim in the ocean, check local beach forecasts and be aware of the conditions. Great beach weather does not mean it is safe to get in the water – rip currents still form on calm, sunny days. The fast-moving currents of water can even carry strong swimmers away from the shore. If you get caught in a rip current, trying to swim against it will wear you out. Wave and yell to get the attention of people on the shore, who should call for help or alert a lifeguard. You can also try to swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim with the waves to return to shore. To check the area beach forecast, visit

Emily Mackovjak is a family nurse practitioner with Wrightsville Beach Family Medicine - NHRMC Physician Group. Call 910.344.8900.

Categories: Your Health

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