Symptoms and Signs of Stingray Injury

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/3/2021

Doctor's Notes on Stingray Injury

Stingrays are aquatic members (mainly saltwater) that have a flat body with wing-like fins and a long tail containing a barbed structure at its tip called a spine or stinger containing venom, which they use for defense. They are not aggressive unless threatened. Some rays (manta rays) do not have a stinger and are harmless. Injuries are caused by the whip-like action of the tail and the venoms or toxins contained in a sheath covering the stinger. Signs and symptoms may include a cut or laceration where the sheathed stinger hits the skin (parts of the sheath and stinger may be left in the wound). The released toxins can cause immediate and severe pain that may radiate up a limb, cause swelling, bleeding, and wound color changes (bluish to red) and systemic symptoms like sweating, saliva production, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and weakness. In some people, more severe symptoms like low blood pressure, muscle cramps and/or paralysis, short of breath, heart arrhythmias, and seizures may occur. Rarely, death from blood loss from puncture wounds to the heart or abdomen have happened.

The causes of stingray injuries are due to cuts or lacerations by the whip-like action of the tail that puts the barbed stinger and the toxins located in the stinger's sheath into the skin (sometimes so deep it may lacerate an organ). Usually, the bigger the stingray, the more severe the signs and symptoms. However, most stingray injuries should be evaluated in an emergency department.

What Is the Treatment of a Stingray Injury?

As long as the stingray barb or stingers are not large or deeply embedded into a person and not likely embedded in an organ like the heart, the following is suggested treatment:

  • Flush the wound with fresh water.
  • Reduce pain by soaking the wound with fresh water as hot as the person can tolerate.
  • Remove stingers or spine fragments with tweezers.
  • Use soap and water to scrub the wound.
  • Don't tape or close the wound with stitches.
  • Go to the nearest ER department for further care (additional pain reduction, wound care, tetanus vaccine, and antibiotics). If the wound and/or stinger is large and deeply embedded, call 911 immediately.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.