Stung by a Stingray

A little over a month ago, Justin and I decided to spend the weekend down in Playa Coco.  We packed our bathing suits, board games, and books and invited some friends to come with us.  Saturday was an incredible day – we ran with our dogs in the ocean, witnessed a beautiful sunset, and sat down to an inviting meal with easy conversation.

another tranquil day at Playa Coco

another tranquil day at Playa Coco

Sunday morning, we woke up ready for more of the same.  We gorged on pancakes, bacon, and tostones, and set out for a day in the sun.  It was that afternoon that I experienced the worst pain of my  entire life…

As we approached the water that afternoon, everyone discussed a possible run-in with stingrays.  Apparently, stingrays are more common in Nicaragua when the Pacific is at its coldest (January-March).  So we walked into the ocean with some trepidation, shuffling our feet (to scare off the creepy, slimy rays), but anxious to dive into the refreshing water.  Everyone splashed and swam for a solid 10 minutes before our friend, Yaosca, announced that she thought she felt a ray swim by.  Though a little more nervous, we continued our swim.  Justin and I dove into a rolling wave and as we approached the surface of the water, we planted our feet firmly in the sand.   Unfortunately for me, I actually stepped directly on a stingray.  The piercing pain was instantaneous and I lept out of the water, crawling up Justin’s back like a monkey.

 

First glimpse of the tiny little puncture wound

First glimpse of the tiny little puncture wound

I limped out of the water, with everyone running close behind – anxious to see what happened and to avoid more stings.  By the time we made it to the house, the pain had all but subsided so I changed out of my wet suit and made myself comfortable.  I thought the worst was over, but within minutes, an indescribable throbbing, aching pain returned to my foot that would last for 4 hours.  Unsure of how to help, everyone in the house dispersed to talk to various people in the area for a remedy.  

They returned with suggestions ranging from burning the wound with a cigarette, sticking a hot nail in the wound, to holding a candle flame against the cut.  We opted out of the tetanus-bound voodoo and ultimately decided that I needed heat to help relieve the pain.  Apparently, rays release a toxin when they sting, and the heat helps to draw this out.  For the next 3 hours, my wonderful friends created a water brigade, bringing me a steady stream of pots with boiling hot water.  I felt immediate relief with the initial application of near-boiling water, so we decided to immerse my foot in the pot.  Shortly thereafter, I found that the pain decreased with my foot elevated, so we returned to hot compresses, switching them out as the washcloth cooled down.  Throughout my “treatment,” I felt waves of almost total relief, with the pain dissipating, while at other times, the pain was so unbearable that I cried for it to end.  Eventually, the pain began to dull for longer periods of time and we were able to make the drive back home comfortably.  

3 days later

3 days later

 

 

Over the next month, my foot has slowly healed and I’ve had an awesome story to share with friends and family.  I suspect that a puncture wound usually heals much more quickly, but the inconvenient location of it in the soft arch of my foot made this more difficult.

 

1 1/2 weeks later

1 1/2 weeks later

 

 

So, for those of you worried about stings, here is some helpful advice:

Rays are not aggressive, so an injury from a stingray usually occurs when a swimmer or diver accidentally steps on one.

The conventional wisdom says to shuffle your feet to let the stingrays know you’re coming. Of course, you’re probably more likely to stub your toe on a rock than to step on a stingray.

If you are stung, don’t panic. Stingrays sting to scare us away. The sting is painful, but not very harmful. Victims should make their way back to the safety of shore by shuffling their feet (so they won’t be stung again).

Clean the wound with fresh, clean water and soap.

Remove small parts or barbs of the stinger with tweezers or pliers.  You may need medical assistance with this.

Stingray stings are caused by a sharp barb that transmits a protein-based venom. This venom causes extreme pain that will spike and decrease over the next several hours, and often leave cuts and abrasions at the sting site. The pain is most extreme during the first 30-90 minutes after the sting, spiking on and off during this time as well. It is common for a sting to bleed and swell.

The toxin may be neutralyzed by immersing the cleaned wound in fresh, hot water (110 – 113 degrees Farenheit) or by placing towels soaked in hot water on the wound. Be careful not to make the water too hot and scald (burn) the victim.  Because stingray venoms are composed of heat-labile proteins, doing this will alter the tertiary structure of the polypeptide protein molecule by denaturing and thereby deactivating the poison. Ultimately this means that the venom will have less effect. Not only does the hot water help with the venom, but at the same time it will significantly reduce the amount of pain the victim is experiencing (borrowed from wikihow.com).

Most importantly, remember that the pain will eventually go away.  In the thick of it, I thought it would never end (and I worried that I was perhaps a little over-dramatic).  However, it does end and makes you all the tougher, should you be the unfortunate victim…

I would like to say that this shouldn’t keep you from returning to the water.  I’m the “fall off your bike, get back on kind of girl.”  But, in this case, I must be honest and admit that I have yet to venture back into the ocean.  I will wade near the shore, but my next full immersion will be the pool or in April, when ray season is purported to end!

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30 thoughts on “Stung by a Stingray

  1. Hi, Just came back from Anna Maria Island Florida from a morning of swimming. Got stung by a stingray in just about the same spot!! I was shuffleing my feet like they say to do and still got stung! Man it hurt so badly, but luckily the lifeguards came to my rescue bringing me scalding hot water from the beach restaurant and it eased the pain. Now we are home and I am getting ready to soak it some more since it made it feel so good!

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. I got stung on April in Playa Rajada, located in Bolaños Bay Costa Rica, near the border with Nicaragua.

    I have read that stingrays are common on isolated beaches, when the tide is low and the water is cold. I didn’t see the stingray, even when this beach have crystal clear water. The only warning I had was when my girlfriend felt something moving near her feet 5-10 minutes before I got stung.

    Hot really helps to reduce the pain. If you are far away from any place where you can get hot water (for example an isolated beach) you can try to use a candle and drop the hot sperm right on the cut.

    You should apply some kind of hot on the place where you got stung as soon as can to help to reduce the pain, because it will be severe after 30 minutes. This could help you to reduce the pain and get ready to look for some medical help.

    I got medical help 1 and a half hour after being stung, my foot healed 4 days later. This kind of injury is almost certain to become infected if you don’t get some help.

    • Thanks, everyone, for sharing your stingray stories! The extra advice is so helpful, too. I hope you have all recovered. I finally got back in the water about a month ago, after weeks of stingray phobia!

  3. Hello again! I am glad you have gotten better! Aobut a week after the sting my foot had a terrible infection but I fought it and won out after another week. Now we are exactly one month post sting and all I have is some minor peeling skin and a small scar with hard tissue and in indention.

    We were planning on going back to the same beach tomorrow for our daughter’s birthday, but too much rain for the last week and will again tomorrow. I am looking forward to getting back out in the water at our beach.

    We will now always have a big bucket with us so next time (if there is one) we can get hot water from a home nearby.

    ALSO, this has prompted me to have two goals, I will be getting a stingray tattoo on my foot with the tail and barb pointing at the puncture wound and have the date under it. Last goal is to eat stingray at a restaurant if we can ever find one that serves it close enough for a day trip.
    Happy healing to all!

  4. Hi there!
    I was stung last Wednesday at Clearwater Beach, FL. It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt! I was the 4th out of 8 stings that day alone! The lifeguards got my foot immersed immediately and sent me on my way telling me to keep submersing it in hot water and to go to Urgent Care. I went to urgent care about 4 hours later and I was already walking fine(sore but no searing pain). They took xrays(no barb), irrigated the wound, and sent me on my way with a prescription for an antibiotic.
    I’m back in AZ and I hope I don’t develop a secondary infection(or tetanus for that matter since my shots aren’t current) since most docs here are used to treating scorpion stings and spider bites.
    It’s nice to read people’s stories and see that they healed up eventually and that it all worked out in the end. I noticed that you didn’t mention antibiotics and I’m glad to see that you healed up nicely!

  5. HI! I was stung by a stingray at Fort Desoto Beach, FL a week and a half ago. It was very painful. I limped out of the water and straight to a first aid stand on the beach. They put my foot in a bucket of hot water. It did help with the pain. My wound was doing fine until today I came home from work and my foot was hurting so I took my shoes and sock off and my wound was all red again and looked infected. I called my doctor who had already left for the day so they said they would leave him a message and get back to me first thing in the morning. So I guess I wait to see what he will do tomorrow. I soaked my foot tonight in hot/warm water and put some proxide on it and then neosporin. Its hurting but not as bad as it was. I thought after a week and a half I wouldn’t be having any trouble with it but I was wrong. I just hope I can get something tomorrow from the doctor to get it to heal up and stop hurting. Wish me luck.

  6. Swimming in about 5 ft of water in the same spot for hour with a friend. Feet were not on ground. Stingray came up and stung inside of my heel. Didn’t see it, thought it was shark, was bleeding. Pain went up my entire leg. Started passing out. Stayed in hot water all day. The worst venom pain subsided after about 2 hours. Had to stay in hot water about 8 hours. Now it has been 3 weeks. It doesn’t look infected. I am not sick, but it still hurts to touch (like the first day) It is sensitive over the entire back ankle area. I walk on front part of my foot. Is this normal? I went to a foot doctor yesterday and he x-rayed and said the bone looks normal.
    Any suggestions?

    • Ouch – sounds like a pretty bad sting! My best advice would be to visit with another doctor to see if there is anything more you can do to treat the pain. Make sure that the barb is out of your foot, too! Maybe that’s causing the ongoing pain…best of luck to you and feel better!

  7. Hey,

    I was stung by a stingray 2 days ago on the side of my foot, and the pain was excruciating, it was so bad. I was walking in shallow water (with my friend) and had stepped on something slimy, and imediatley dived away from whatever it was. As I came up out of the water I felt very dizzy and light headed and thought it was a crab. I layed on the beach and it wasn’t hurting, but a minute later it was so intense. My foot had a small pierce on the side and blood was dripping out, the pain was getting worse by the minute. My friend wasn’t sure of what to do so asked a man digging for worms nearby to help. He wrapped my towel around my leg as the pain was moving up my leg and finished at my knee. I started shaking and found out it was from the poison. I was layed in a car and drivin to the nearby hospital. They had put my foot in hot water and that definatly relieved the pain, two needles in my foot to numb it and stop the pain (which didn’t help) and after changing the hot water several times over two hours the pain wasn’t as bad, then they sent me home. So here I am two days later and have been doing more walking then I should be, wearing a sandal on my foot with a bandage around it. It has been leaking watery blood and puss so I’m wondering if it’s infected. My foot has gotten swollen, atleast 3 times the size of my foot. It is huge.

    Is this normal for your foot to swell up after a stingray sting? and what are some signs of infection. Should I be getting it checked out?

    Thank you 🙂

    • Hi there,
      I apologize for the delayed response! Sounds like a pretty uncomfortable sting! My foot certainly swelled after the sting, but I don’t know if it’s a normal reaction. I would think that any trauma to the body could result in swelling, but it’s always better to get it checked out! If you think the sting is infected, this is especially important as the stingrays barb could be stuck in your foot. Good luck and feel better!

  8. Hi Sara,
    Ron and I were just looking at the pictures from Nicaragua. You and Cooper reminded us of the great time we had in SJDS. Your stingray advice came in handy at Playa Madera when a young lady got stung but got immediate assistance with hot water from the vendor there.
    Chau,
    Jodie

    • Hi Guys! It is so nice to hear from you! I was sorry that we weren’t around when you left so that we could say a proper goodbye! I hope you are enjoying the rest of your travels! Keep me posted on things! Be well! S

  9. Hi. Got stung at 10am this morning at low tide in about four feet of water on a guatemalan beach. The pain was only matched – and amply surpassed – by a kidney stone I once had. I took two 200mg pills of dualdol, a pain killer, and soaked my foot for an hour in the hottest water I could stand. The pain went almost completely and now I’m drinking a beer, staring at the ocean and hoping I can get back to surfing tomorrow.

  10. We just got back from a week in SJDS and I saw a fisherman get stung right after walking into the bay. Over the next few days, we saw fishermen catch about 8 more in their nets close to the beach.

    I think next time I will be wearing some sort of sandals in the water.

    Thanks for writing about your experience.

  11. This post was super informative. I’ve spent the past week nursing what I thought was a jellyfish sting, but my foot looks identical to the photos above, and it’s healing at the same rate.

    I’m heading to the doctor today just in case, but it’s good to know what actually happened out there! I never saw what stung me.

    Second time surfing in my entire life and I get stung. Boo!

  12. I too was stung on my foot by a sting ray in southern California. I was shocked that the lifeguards did not know the proper way to respond to this. They poured a glass of ice water over it which felt like broken glass in my foot. Big mistake! They thought that rinsing off the sand on my foot would help them see if the barb was in my foot as this needs to come out. Next, the pain started to escalate and seemed to travel up my leg. The pain was excruciating and I started to pass out so the paramedics gave me oxygen. I went to the ER and the first thing they did was put my foot in very hot water, not scalding and not boiling. The water should be as hot as you can tolerate and as soon as it started to cool down bit, another pot of hot water came and so on. The doctor said that the heat neutralizes the pain. The hot water took the pain away completely.

  13. addendum to the above story….I went to get off the boodie board in waist deep water and as soon as stepped down I felt this attack to my foot. The pain was really bad and I felt like a chunk of it was missing but was afraid to bring my foot out of the water to look at it in case there really was a chunk missing in fear that the I might pass out by the sight of it so I waited until I got to shore. It hurt bad but when I looked at it it was bleeding and sort of a triangle shaped cut was on my foot. I was told it was from a sting ray. Best thing to do….soak the area with hot water, as hot as you can stand it, it neurtralizes the pain according to the ER doctor.

  14. Even though this post was made two years ago, I was just reading the comments and they really helped me to see other stories, so I’m going to post mine. I was at the beach today in Southern California boogie boarding. I was in about waist deep water when I stepped down and felt this pinch as if a crab pinched me but it was sharp, and so I yelled out to my friends and told them. Then it started to get this throbbing stinging feeling, so I thought it may have been a jelly fish. My friends helped me to walk to shore and when I was in shallower water, I lifted up my foot and saw all of this blood running down from the bottom of my foot. My friend ran to the lifeguard tower and told them what happened and one of the cars came and picked me up. The lifeguard driving told me that it sounded like a stingray wound, and as I entered the lifeguard building, another person was just finishing being treated for a wound he received. They immediately put my foot in hot water, and told me to keep adding as much hot water as I could handle from the faucet. The lifeguard told me that I was the third person that day, and that it can take from 20 mins to 2 hours soaking my foot in the water until the venom was completely out. I ended up having to soak it for 1 and a half hours until the throbbing went completely away. The only way I can really describe the pain is as this constant stabbing feeling, and the wound almost pulsates with the throbbing, but it felt a lot better after about an hour of soaking. The guy before me only had to soak his foot for 30 mins before the pain stopped. It was pretty excruciating in the beginning and my whole body was shaking, but I never actually cried from it, but I am a pretty positive girl, so I don’t really cry that easily because I kept thinking about how worse it could’ve been if something else had happened (like a shark bite, eek!). It is unlike anything I’ve ever felt though, and after my foot felt fine the lifeguard had me keep it out in the air for a few minutes to see if the throbbing returned, and it didn’t, so he sprayed Bactine on it and wrapped it in gauze. He told me that once I got home I could take the gauze off, so right now I feel it as I’m walking, but it only hurts a little, so hopefully it doesn’t end up getting infected! My wound looks a lot like the first picture posted, except its further up towards my toes on the actual padding of the palm of my foot, and it feels as if that part of my foot may be a little swollen, but it seems to be alright as of now!

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  16. I thought I would try this blog out. I was stung wk and half ago by a stingray in Gulf Shores, AL. The pain is unexplainable to those that haven’t had the experience. I was less than knee deep and several people including my children all around looking for shells and crabs. Stepped and the next thing I knew I felt as if my foot had been cut off. Pain all over and shooting up my leg shortly after that. Bleeding like crazy we went the to the Urgent Care and was treated with HOT water and that was amazing how much that helped. Did the xray and found No barb. The problem I am having now is that my foot is swelling back up and trobbing again. Things were back to completely normal on Monday this week, Meaning no pain. Tender to touch but ok. Now my foot is so swollen I cant put a shoe on and the throbbing is getting worse. Area is bruising up. What would this be caused from and does anyone have any suggestions?

    thx

  17. I got stung last week in Carlsbad, Ca. I was coming out of the water with my surfboard. About 2 ft of water, I was stung. It felt like several bites then immediately the excruciating pain. Two bystanders, pulled me from the water as I collasped on my board. I was lying on the beach for about 30min before the fire dept came. They were horrible with me! They acted as if no big deal as I dealt with this awful pain. I discribed this pain to my husband somewhat like child labor. In the ER, I soaked my foot with hot water for about 1 hour. A week later my foot is still numb 😦

  18. I was on Whalehead beach in OBX North Carolina this past Thursday, August 18th, and walking in shallow water to catch some waves boogie boarding. I saw a little trench in the sand and just as I stepped down with my left foot I thought, “this could be bad”, sure enough I stepped on something slimy and felt a sharp stap in my heel. I hobbled back on to the shore and saw my heel was squirting blood and thought it was a crab I stepped on but then my foot started to burn and hurt so bad. My husband carried me up to my chair and he and my family started to put ice water on it and it felt worse, when the lifeguard came over he told me about using the hot water and squeezed my wound to make sure there was no fragments from the barb and to get out the excess venom. When I got back to our beach house I was in so much pain, I can only compare it to being as bad as child birth, seriously, it was so bad. I soaked my foot in the hottest water I could stand for about two hours until the pain went away. I cleaned the wound with strong tequila and continue to put coconut oil on it and soak it off and on in hot water with some isopropyl alcohol now that I am home. Today my heel is a little swollen and warm to the touch, but it isn’t red or pussy. The wound itself is healed over pretty good but black where there is old blood. I hope it doesn’t get infected, but time will tell. I feel a little nauseous off and on but I don’t know if that’s just my nerves from worrying about infection. I had gotten a tetanus shot the week before we left for the beach so at least that’s up to date. Thanks for this blog, glad to know I’m not alone.

  19. I love to surf and I used to live in San Diego. While there, I got stung nearly 25 times just over the course of being in the water. Even when doing the stingray shuffle, sometimes, there’s nothing you could have done. Likewise, they can get infected around 10% of the time but that’s minimal pain compared to the initial bite. Thankfully, after a while, you built up a bit of immunity to it.

    http://howficklemyheart.wordpress.com

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  21. Weeeel! I too just returnrd from Nicaragua and was stung in Jiquilillo on my ankle after stepping on a sting ray. I thought I had stepped on a crab and that it had pinched me, so put ice on the wound rather than heat. I have to say that Flor de Cana (rum) helped me forget about the pain that day. Unfortunately, the inflammation got worse and worse throughout the week, and I ended up having to take antibiotics(which I don’t like to do!) for a week. I however returned in the water the very same day, to kill my fear, figuring that I have never heard of someone being stung twice !

  22. Omg! Being stung by a stingray was the worst pain Ive ever felt in my life n to make things worst it was my first time ever being in the ocean… I don’t think I’ll ever step in the ocean again.. Oh is all took place in Huntington Beach.. Worst Cali trip ever!!!!

  23. It’s likely that a sting ray lanced the side of my foot on the Kenya coast. As I was in a remote area, I had to wait about 2 hours for a soak in a bowl of hot water which relieved the pain. I’d wished for a rickshaw ride to the facility as my upper thigh was cramping and numb as the same time. The foot remains swollen after 6.5 weeks and the wound is still weepy. Have seen 8 doctors, done swabs, blood test, x-ray & MRI. Next is a tissue sample that will be done under a local. Someone remarked “Like snake venom, the cellulitis is probably more the result of proteolytic enzyme activity and not detectable by path lab testing”. Yes, ray stings are troublesome indeed and well advanced in effectiveness compared to a bee or wasp sting or two! The critters have given me the he-bee jeebies about entering the water now.

    http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/story/2012/08/15/sting-in-holiday-tale-coast-man-thought-he-would-d/?fb_action_ids=10150993555186640&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

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  25. My husband was nailed in the side of his foot by a stingray 10 days ago at Lido Beach, Florida. The paramedics told him that he should take meat tenderizer with us in case of stingray attack. Apparently it helps draw out the toxins if you don’t have access to hot water.

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