Basic First Aid for Stings, Bites, and Burns
While diving we have a tendency to bump into different things that over millennia have built up defenses. Many of these things sting, bite, or have similar effects to burns. It is an inevitability that you will have a run in with something as you spend more time in the water. There are some things you can do to prevent these interactions being too harmful, and there are best practices to treating these issues. We will be looking into both prevention tactics as well as proper basic first aid treatment methods for some of these issues.
Basic First Aid for Stings
Stings are the most common of the three injuries we will be covering in this post. There is a wide range of what constitutes a sting. Jelly fish are fairly common, but have a wide range of effects based on species. Some jellyfish do not sting at all, some sting and result in mild discomfort, then in some parts of the world there are jelly fish that have fatal stings. Jellyfish have tentacles covered in microscopic nematocysts, which are stinging cells. Jellyfish stings are best treated with ammonia or distilled vinegar applied with a spray bottle. This method of treatment is deceptive in how it works. It does not prevent the stinging cells from stinging you. It actually causes all of the stinging cells to be activated simultaneously, thereby preventing them from being an issue in the future.
Venomous Fish Spines
Other types of stings are not microscopic, but are the results of barbs or spines. These can be placed into two broad categories, venomous and non venomous. An example of a venomous sting would be a lion fish. In the eastern United States these are an invasive species that many places have placed incentives in harvesting these fish. The problem is these fish have venomous spines on several parts of their bodies that can result is terrible pain and swelling on the afflicted body part. The venom that is injected is a type of protein that needs to break down in order to stop causing pain in the individual.
Basic First Aid for Venomous Fish Spines
Many people have the reaction to put this type of injury on ice. That is a terrible idea. This causes your pores to close up, and additionally preserves the protein. The best solution is hot water or distilled vinegar. As hot as you can stand. The problem is it is difficult to find hot water distantly offshore, unless you are creative. Boats tend to run off of some type of engine, and these engines tend to have a raw water cooling system, meaning they pull water from the ocean and cool the engine through transferring and expelling hot water. You can use that water and collect it to warm the affected body part. We do not recommend directly applying this water as it can cause burns.
People tend to think of bites as the major hemorrhage events. The reality is that most bites happen because a fish is freaking out on the end of a spear. Shark bites are still something you need to consider in prepping your first aid kit. The best thing to do is prevention for any of these issues. To prevent small fish from biting you or hitting you with their spines you just need to handle them properly. A good pair of gloves and trying to handle the fish from their belly and gills rather than their dorsal fins. Avoiding sharks is usually straight forward as well. You just need to be vigilant and read their behavior.
First Aid for Small Bites
The reality is that things happen and sometimes you need to treat minor or major injuries. In the case of a fish bite or non-venomous spine you need to clean the injury as best you can. Hydrogen peroxide or betadine are the best options for thoroughly cleaning out small puncture wounds from bites from smaller fish.
Shark bites can be a much more traumatic issue. Depending on the severity of the bite it could be potentially life threatening in a very short period of time. This section is no designed to replace proper first aid training. You should defiantly go through some organized first aid training. The most important thing to have on the boat for a shark bite or the major hemorrhage injury is a tourniquet. To properly apply a tourniquet you need to place the tourniquet above the injury about four inches (10 cm) below the next major joint. You need to tighten the tourniquet down tight enough that it stops blood flow. Leave the tourniquet on and get them to medical attention as soon as possible. Treat the injured person for shock.
There are two types of ‘Burns’ you run into while diving. Some of these issues feel like burns and act like burns but are actually types of stings. The other type are real burns that are usually human causes. In water ‘burns’ are often issues like fire coral or other types of stationary living organisms in the ocean. The best way to deal with these are injuries is prevention. Become familiar with the types of hazardous corals in the area you are diving in. Wearing a wetsuit or lycra skin and gloves helps to protect you from these stinging abrasions. Be careful with what you touch after you have come in contact with any of these burning corals.
Treating Burns from Corals
If you have come in contact with one of these corals there are a couple treatments that may help. Because these are types of stings technically they should be treated similarly. White vinegar should help, other divers recommend lemon pepper or meat tenderizer powders. All of these acids work to break down proteins, which is what needs to happen to counter act the toxins form these sings.
The actual burns people tend to run into while diving are accidents based around boat engines. Boat engines tend to pull raw water from the ocean to transfer the heat out of the engine and expel hot water through exhausts. The water can come out of these at nearly 160-200 degrees F (70-90 C). That is hot enough to result in 3rd degree burns after a short exposure time.
To treat major burns the first step is to prevent further harm. Next remove any jewelry from extremities. Cover the burn with a cool, moist bandage. Elevate the burned area and treat for shock. Get the injured person to medical attention as soon as possible.
For treating minor burns you may not need to seek medical treatment. Many of the steps are similar in the treatment. Run cool water over the burn and remove any jewelry from extremities. Apply a lotion or topical treatment, preferably with aloe vera or a moisturizer. Loosely bandage the burn with sterile gauze, do not use loose cotton as a bandage on burns. If needed, an over the counter pain reliever can be useful. If the condition of the injury worsens or stats to be infected you should seek medical attention.