If you get stung by a sting ray it is not the end of the world. It is going to hurt, and you need on the spot and follow-up care to avoid infection from the barb it will leave behind in you in almost all cases, but it is actually quite common and very treatable. Knowing a little about where sting rays like to hang out and what to do immediately after a sting is the best first step to handling the situation calmly and correctly.
Sting rays love to lay around half buried in sand or mud in warm coastal regions. Sting rays are actually quite passive and they sting as a defensive measure in most cases. Usually what happens is that a person is walking along and steps on ray prompting the sting, it is a reflex reaction. There isn’t much you can do to avoid this but completely stay out of the water which is totally unnecessary. So know you know where a sting ray likes to lounge and why they sting, the next step is understanding the possible problems you can encounter.
A sting ray tail has at least one barb and two venomous grooves. The tail is their weapon which is what they use to jab their victim. At that point the stinger apparatus injects the venom assuming that the sting ray still has its integumentary sheath which covers the venom glands. If the sheath is missing there is no evnenemation. In some cases even when the sheath is in tact envenomation fails to occur, it is not something that happens every time. Immediately after a sting the wound may bleed freely, the pain in some victims has been described as excruciating, and there are about a dozen systemic problems which may arise. be on the look-out for the following because they can dictate what type of treatment you need and how fast you need it: Hypotension, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, synoscope, diarrhea, muscle cramps, fatigue, diaphoresis, fasiculations, and seizures.
The first step in treating a sting ray wound is to immerse the area in water that is as hot as the person can withstand without burning them. If you cannot soak the area then apply hot packs or compresses. The suggested water temperature is 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit. This is mostly to ease the pain, but it is also believed it counteracts the toxin which is sensitive to heat. While this is being done if any of the above systemic signs present immediately call 911 or the appropriate emergency service number where you are for immediate treatment. If no systemic problems manifest keep the affected area immersed for 30-90 minutes being sure to keep the temperature of the water as constantly hot as possible.
After the immersion has lessened the pain enough to examine the area you can begin examining the wound. It is very common for a barb, and in some cases a part of the spine and sheath, to break off and lodge itself under the skin. Sand and other foreign materials may be present as well. While many people try to clean and remove all of this on their own, it is best to go to a local wound care center. Many large popular beaches and most resorts have someone available that is trained and capable of dealing with these wounds. Going to a local wound treatment center is however the best, especially if your tetanus booster is old or out of date.
The wound if small can be left to close on its own without stitches. Watching for infection is the biggest thing you can do in the days following a sting. Staphylococci and streptococci are serious and need to be dealt with immediately. While these are not common after a sting, the rate of morbidity for those who leave infection by these agents is high.
In short; don’t panic, immerse the area in 100-115 degree water for 30-90 minutes and then treat the wound to remove anything which has entered the body. Clean the wound and if necessary consider loose primary closure. With that done monitor for infection. While not all stings necessarily need emergency care always be on the lookout for any systemic problems unusual swelling or tenderness, and infection. Should any present them self please seek professional medical care.