Blue bottles and blue bottle stings

Most families love long lazy days at the beach. There is, however, one little sea creature that can turn your happy beach outing turn into a misery of tears – the infamous blue bottle or blou blasie. In fact, in January 2012 a man from Strand in the Western Cape tragically died after he had a serious allergic reaction to a blue bottle sting.

Blue bottles are found all along the coast of South Africa – they are very common during high tides. Blue bottles are often confused with jellyfish, but they are identified by a small translucent blue bubble (“bottle”) attached to some rather long and thin tentacles. It is important to remember that blue bottle and jellyfish stings are not treated in the same way since their toxins differ – so you must be able to identify a blue bottle when you see one!

Fortunately, fatalities from blue bottle stings are extremely rare. As with all venomous encounters, some people are more at risk for serious reactions and complications: The elderly, children, asthmatics and people prone to allergies. A blue bottle sting is excruciatingly painful and causes red welts on the skin, even more so if stung multiple times. The most intense pain usually subsides within an hour, but the welts can sometimes remain for up to three days. Complications can arise when the toxin travels to the lymph nodes and cause more severe pain. In these cases, medical attention is necessary and the victim might even have to be hospitalised. Blisters can also appear and welts can sometimes leave scars which can take years to disappear completely.

How to prevent stings:

•    Do not go swimming when there are blue bottles on the beach or in the water. Some beaches have warnings in place or can even be closed, so adhere to the warning!
•    Never touch blue bottles with your bare hands.
•    Blue bottles die when they get washed up on shore, but do not let that fool you. Dead blue bottles and detached tentacles can also give a nasty sting.
•    Never jump on blue bottles or attempt to “burst” them. If some of those pieces land on your skin, you will be stung.

When Someone Is Stung:

•    Try to calm the victim down – which will be very difficult because the sting is very painful.
•    Rinse the affected area with sea water immediately. Never rinse with fresh water – it causes the tentacles to release more toxins!
•    Try to remove the tentacles. Cover your hands, because the tentacles will also sting your bare hands. If you have nothing to cover your hands with, try this old life-saver trick: Put some sea sand on the tentacles and gently rub the tentacles off with the sand. Be gentle, this will be painful!

There are a few things you can try for pain relief:

•    A paste made with meat tenderiser and water
•    Handy Andy 
•    Urinate on the affected area. I know it sounds gross, but the relief is instantaneous!
•    When you get home, immerse the affected area in very hot water (around 45 degrees Celsius) with a pinch of salt for 30 minutes.
•    Apply some topical anaesthetic cream, like Phenergan or Stingose.
•    The victim may need a tetanus injection if his last one was more than five years ago.

Seek immediate medical attention if the following symptoms appear:

•    Intense and persisting pain
•    Worsening rash
•    Fever-like symptoms
•    Swollen lymph nodes
•    A red streak between the lymph nodes and the sting
•    If the area becomes red, warm and tender.


•    Apply vinegar to a blue bottle sting – it increases the amount of toxin released.
•    Rinse the affected area with clean water – always use salt water. Fresh water causes the tentacles release more toxin.

And Remember – Always:

Put some Handy Andy or Meat Tenderiser and thick gloves in your beach bag! You never know when you might need it.

Have your kids ever been exposed to blue bottles?
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