Sunday, March 8, 2009

When Thimble Jelly Fish Attack

"Sea Bather's Eruption" - it sounds as disgusting as it is.  It's the reason I abruptly stopped blogging in Cozumel on my last dive trip in August, and I'm just now getting around to posting the photos six months later. 

If you've never experienced Sea Bather's Eruption, count your blessings.  Click on the title of the post to read a dermatology site's thorough explanation, but to sum up: it's an allergic reaction to the stings of tiny jellyfish larvae.  These jellyfish larvae tend to be incredibly tiny and omnipresent in Cozumel in August, and they sting like the devil.  Apparently, not all people are allergic, but I developed a rather inconvenient and incredibly painful skin rash the first day of diving on a ten day trip.  Having had no prior experience with this condition, I found myself hitting several different pharmacies looking for answers and buying medications. I even tried a few folklore home remedies I heard about from locals and was close to seeking out a Mayan witch doctor for the antidote to what seemed more like an ancient curse than a simple skin condition.

I'm including a photo of my rash covered arm, and as you can see, it's covered in raised, red, inflamed bumps. It's hard to see but my neck was also extremely red and inflamed. 

I was told on day two of this vacation that I would need to stay out of the sun.  A pharmacist assured me that my skin condition was sun poisoning.  Another informed me that I had scabies. A lifeguard told me to pour vinegar all over myself and scrape my skin with a credit card or a razor.  The only thing more absurd is that I actually did it and it actually helped (somewhat).

So I hope this particular post helps someone because no one should have to needlessly endure a dive vacation fraught with skin rashes, hideous itches, misdiagnoses, benadryl hangovers, long sleeves, etc.  Here's the deal: the dang things attacked me at my most vulnerable point - the neck of my wetsuit.  Teeny tiny transparent jellyfish - the size of thimbles - were floating near the surface of the water.  I paid them very little attention. I felt a sting, but I was enjoying my dive so much on that first day that I didn't really think about it.  The site of the sting was red, but that wasn't the issue.  That night a rash covered my arms, chest, legs. It looked like I had been simultaneously been sunburned and attacked by mosquitoes.  So, I used aloe and insect bite stuff which was entirely pointless and didn't relieve anything.  I bought a long sleeve shirt which I wore for the remainder of the trip while I mostly sat in the shade.  

Fortunately, I was able to dive a few more times.  But I had to stay in the shade of the boat when I wasn't in the water, and I must have spent $200 on medications that didn't work.  Here's what happens: Jellyfish sting with barbs. Those barbs get stuck into your skin and will keep stinging you long after you're out of the water. If you scratch, more venom will be released. Vinegar cuts the sting of the venom, and scraping the skin with a razor will cut the barbs out, at least at the skin's surface.  Benadryl will arrest the skin rash, but in my case, it was either too late, or it just had to run its course.  The pharmacy told me to get prednisone, but I didn't want to take it without a doctor's supervision.  The three most important things I've learned: (1) get out of the water if you see them (2) pour vinegar on your skin immediately if you've been stung, don't put freshwater on it first (3) wash your wetsuit and swimsuits thoroughly in vinegar and in soapy water before you wear them again as the barbs might get stuck. And if you do get stung and you're allergic, your whole body might break out, not just the site of the sting so be prepared to take benadryl or prednisone.  If you're severely allergic in general, talk to your allergist before scuba diving, especially in the Caribbean in May - Sept.

I'm going to buy this product:
Has anyone tried it?  Does it work? 
This Sea Bather's Eruption stuff was only identified in 1949 according to Wikipedia, and it seems like there's a lot of misinformation out there about it.  The best bet is to avoid the water if these little demons are visible.