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Preparing for the inevitable bluebottle sting

For ocean swimmers, getting stung by a bluebottle is an inevitable fact of life, so we’ve got some useful tips on managing the moment.

Bluebottles. A sore topic for ocean lovers all over the country.

There wouldn’t be many ocean swimmers who don’t have a story to tell about a run-in with a ‘bluey’ whilst out swimming.

For ocean swimmers, encountering bluebottles (Portuguese man o’ war) is widely accepted as just a part of the freedom of swimming in the ocean, after all, it is their home. And while we can’t avoid them all the time, there are ways to lessen the impact of a sting and make the ocean a more enjoyable place.

Did you know? If there were no jellyfish we wouldn’t have the beautiful leatherback turtles enjoying the ocean with us because jellyfish are a key part of their diet.

Minimise encounters with bluebottles

Blluebottles are commonly encountered in the summer months on the eastern coast of Australia, and during Autumn and winter in southern Western Australia.

Apart from not entering the water, or spending your whole swim with your head up looking around for bluebottles, there is no foolproof way to avoid a sting every time you ocean swim, however, there are a number of things you can do to minimise your chances of getting stung.

  • Understand the local conditions in relation to winds and tides as these factors influence the movement of jellyfish. For example on Australia’s east coast, both the northeast and southerly winds bring bluebottles towards the beach.
  • Do your research. Ask other swimmers, lifeguards and surfers if there has been any bluebottles present lately.
  • Scan the water and tide line from shore on your way down to the water’s edge and before diving in.
  • Wear a wetsuit top/rashie. The less skin exposed to the elements leaves less area for a jellyfish to sting.
  • Apply vaseline or sunscreen to any skin not covered by togs or wetsuits. Both vaseline and sunscreen create a barrier between the skin and anything coming in contact with it, which makes it harder for a jellyfish tentacle to grip on and sting.
  • Take an antihistamine. This can help take some of the sting and itch out if you do get stung.

Treating jellyfish stings

There have been many different ways to treat a jellyfish sting tested over the years, including hot water, vinegar, salt water and even pee!

First and foremost, knowing what kind of jellyfish you have been stung by is important because there are different treatments recommended depending on the type.

If you are stung, in most cases you won’t need to go to hospital or seek further medical advice. However, some jellyfish stings are dangerous and can cause a severe reaction, requiring emergency first aid.

For bluebottle or minor jellyfish stings, seek advice from your local doctor if the pain continues.

If you’re stung in tropical waters and experience extreme pain, breathing problems, nausea, vomiting or sweating, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

How to treat a bluebottle sting

If you’re stung by a bluebottle it is recommended that you rinse the area with salt water and run warm/hot water (no hotter than you can comfortably handle) over the area for about 20 minutes.

Now, this might be easier said than done at most beaches as you’ll be hard-pressed to find hot water in public washrooms. If you’re swimming at a patrolled beach, be sure to ask the lifesavers if they can help you out in their clubhouse.

It was once believed that applying vinegar to a bluebottle sting would take the sting out but research has found that this actually exacerbates the sting.

A Bluebottle/Portuguese man o’ war

Easing that stinging feeling

Getting stung isn’t fun, but it is inevitable at some point if you are regularly in the ocean. These tips will help get you through a jellyfish sting and back to enjoying the ocean again.

  • Rinse the sting area thoroughly with seawater before leaving the water.
  • Don’t scratch, this will make the sting worse.
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream to help prevent post-sting itch.
  • Clean out your togs. Give them a wash in very hot water and then pop them in the freezer to ensure there are no leftover stingers next time you wear them.
  • Try an over-the-counter antihistamine or steroid medication if the sting or itch becomes too much.
  • Seek advice from your local doctor if the pain continues (beyond a couple of hours).
  • Written by Ocean Swims on 1 November 2022
  • (Updated on 3 August 2023)



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