Evaluation of the effects of various chemicals on discharge of and pain caused by jellyfish nematocysts

Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2010 May;151(4):426-30. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpc.2010.01.007. Epub 2010 Jan 29.


Jellyfish tentacles in contact with human skin can produce pain swelling and redness. The pain is due to discharge of jellyfish nematocysts and associated toxins and discharge can be caused by a variety of mechanical and chemical stimuli. A series of tests were carried out with chemicals traditionally used to treat jellyfish stings e.g. acetic acid ammonia meat tenderizer baking soda and urea to determine if these chemicals stimulated or inhibited nematocyst discharge and if they brought relief to testers who were exposed to jellyfish tentacles. Chrysaora quinquecirrha (sea nettle) Chiropsalmus quadrumanus (sea wasp) and Physalia physalis (Portuguese man-of-war) were used in the study. It was found that many of the chemicals traditionally used to treat jellyfish stings stimulated nematocyst discharge and did not relieve the pain. However there was immediate relief when a common anesthetic lidocaine was sprayed on the skin of testers in contact with jellyfish tentacles. Initial exposure of tentacle suspensions to lidocaine prevented the nematocyst discharge by subsequent exposure to acetic acid ethanol ammonia or bromelain. Thus lidocaine in addition to acting as an anesthetic on skin in contact with jellyfish tentacles inhibited nematocyst discharge possibly by blocking sodium and/or calcium channels of the nematocytes.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Anesthetics / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Antivenins / classification
  • Antivenins / pharmacology*
  • Bites and Stings / drug therapy*
  • Bites and Stings / pathology
  • Cnidaria
  • Cnidarian Venoms / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Cnidarian Venoms / toxicity*
  • Cubozoa / physiology
  • Extremities / physiology
  • Forearm
  • Humans
  • Hydrozoa / physiology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Ion Channels / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Ion Channels / drug effects
  • Lidocaine / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Organelles / drug effects
  • Organelles / metabolism
  • Organelles / pathology
  • Sea Nettle, East Coast / physiology
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / physiopathology


  • Anesthetics
  • Antivenins
  • Cnidarian Venoms
  • Ion Channels
  • Lidocaine