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Here's What Actually Happens When You Pee On A Jellyfish Sting

Ur-ine for a big surprise.

The ocean is wonderful, but it's also full of jellyfish: evil gelatinous bags that will sting you.

Merve Sarac / Getty Images / Via

The type of jellyfish you'll encounter depends on which ocean you're in and the season, but they're all universally annoying. Jellies in the Atlantic tend not to be as large or poisonous and usually show up when the water is warmest in the summer.

Pacific and Indian oceans have scarier ones, like the Box jellyfish and Portuguese Man O' War, which can kill you if you're stung badly enough. You can always do research before you go to the beach to find out if it's jellyfish season and which kind to expect.

You've probably heard that the the best way to reduce the pain and swelling from a sting is to pee on it immediately.

Flickr User Erin G. CC / Via

Remember that episode of Friends where Monica reveals the story of when Chandler had to pee on her leg? It's a very popular ~natural~ remedy, and chances are you've probably been peed on or peed on someone else after jellyfish ruined yet another perfectly good beach day.

But is that really a thing? BuzzFeed Health reached out to board-certified internist Dr. Vandana Bhide at The Mayo Clinic in Florida, to find out

First, let's go over how a jellyfish actually stings you.

Flickr User Erin G. CC / Via Flickr: character

Their tentacles are covered in barb-shaped stingers, called nematocysts. The stingers are often microscopic, so you can usually only see the marks and bumps on the skin above them. One end of the stinger is a bulb filled with venom, which bursts and releases toxins under the skin. That venom is highly alkaline and can only be neutralized with acidic compounds. It affects the nerves of the skin — causing pain, stinging, burning, and tingling.

If there's a high enough concentration of venom, it can enter the bloodstream and cause a coma or death. "This is how jellyfish use their tentacles to kill prey, but the stingers rub off on anything the tentacle touches, like a limb in the water," says Bhide. So jellyfish aren't really stinging you on purpose, but instead accidentally brushing against your skin as they swim.

But — SURPRISE! — there's actually no evidence (other than personal anecdotes) that urine can heal a jellyfish sting.

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"There's no proof that the urine helps neutralize toxins from the jellyfish or bring the stingers to the surface of the skin," says Bhide. Urine probably won't harm the sting, but it definitely isn't healing it.

"The belief behind this remedy is that the acidic pH of urine helps break down the toxins and reduce pain," says Bhide.

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But urine isn't always acidic, because the pH of your pee varies depending on what you eat. And even when it is acidic, it isn't enough to effectively neutralize the alkaline venom.

That said, the warm feeling of urine on the sting might have a placebo effect, which temporarily helps with the pain, says Bhide. Not to mention, it's a pretty good (and gross) distraction.

What does help is vinegar and baking soda, or just sea water.

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First, you should get out of the ocean where the jellyfish were and sit down on dry land. "It's important to sit, relax, and keep the stung part of your body very still to minimize the amount of venom which travels to your blood and the rest of the body," Bhide says.

Once you carefully remove any tentacles stuck on your skin, you can treat the area by pouring sea water on it, which helps to soothe the sting and prevent the absorption of toxins.

But if you have access to it, vinegar works best, since it's highly acidic so it can neutralize the toxins and help bring the stingers to the surface, says Bhide. It works even better when mixed with baking soda and applied like a paste to the sting.

You can gently scrape off the stingers with a card, but they'll also dissolve and come out over time.

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The best way to remove the stingers is by gently scraping a credit card or ID against the skin where it's stung, says Bhide. If you can actually see the stingers, you can try pulling them out with tweezers. But whatever you do, be very gentle and avoid applying pressure, which can cause more stingers to burst and release venom.

But don't freak out if you can't see the stingers or don't have anything to remove them. "Over time, the toxins will dissipate and the stingers will come to the surface and just rub off," says Bhide. If you can't remove the stingers and the sting is still super itchy, Bhide suggests using calamine lotion to calm and sooth the inflamed skin.

DON'T use fresh water, solvents, or rub the sting. That can actually make the barbs release more toxins.

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"Most people don't know that fresh water will actually cause the stingers to release more toxins which makes the pain and swelling worse," Bhide says. And try not to massage or scratch any red or itchy marks, since that can push the stingers deeper into the skin "so it's harder to remove them and makes the toxins spread," says Bhide.

Other popular remedies you should avoid include using a meat tenderizer, solvents like ammonia, or pressure bandages. These can increase swelling, pain, and even cause blistering.

If enough toxins get into your blood, the sting can be fatal — so call 911 for EMS if you have symptoms of a systemic reaction.

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"It's not about pain, it's about the toxins getting into your blood and stopping vital functions," says Bhide. So even if the sting doesn't seem huge or hurt that bad, you can still have a potentially fatal systemic reaction and it's always better to be safe.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, call 911 or go to the ER immediately:

* Difficulty breathing

* Swollen lips or tongue

* Dizziness

* Low blood pressure

* Any other alarming system

Just to be safe, Bhide says any child under the age of 6 should be taken to the hospital if they're stung. "Even if it's a minor sting, a child's body is so small that the concentration of the toxin is much higher in the blood," she says. Likewise, you should go to the hospital if the sting covers more than three limbs, which means the venom amount will be higher. "At the ER they can also use a magnifier to get the stingers out if there's a ton of them," Bhide says.

TL;DR: Peeing on yourself can't hurt, but it doesn't help a jellyfish sting at all. So use sea water or vinegar instead.

Flickr user Kate Nevins CC / Via Flickr: katenev

Most jellyfish stings are just super annoying and the pain will get better in a day or so. But it's still useful to understand how they work and be familiar with the signs of a more serious reaction, says Bhide.

Happy swimming, everyone!

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  1. Have you ever been peed on after getting stung by a jellyfish?

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Have you ever been peed on after getting stung by a jellyfish?
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    Basically every time
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    Only a few times
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    Never, ew
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    Don't talk to me I'm still in shock that I got peed on FOR NOTHING.