Lionfish sting treatments: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly
Updated: Jul 7
Whether you are a recreational diver, or a seasoned lionfish hunter, the occasional sting from a lionfish is inescapable, as well as the occasional “crawl in a ball and cry from the pain”. But it doesn’t have to be this way. While we were developing a cure for the pain of lionfish stings (spoiler alert, it’s StingMaster), we came across some pretty weird at-home remedies. In an effort to protect people from actually trying them, we thought we’d break them down into 3 categories: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly.
Sort of OK: Heat
Some say that hot water treatment (around 110℉, but not over 115℉ in order to avoid burns) can help reduce lionfish sting pain, but not by very much and not for very long. In fact, research in our lab at McGill University actually proved that boiling the venom will destroy its toxins and prevent it from causing any pain. But those temperatures are not the kind that you would want your skin exposed to. Burning your skin might kill the toxins, but could also give you third degree burns! The hot water temperatures that your skin will tolerate will not efficiently denature the toxins, and the pain will continue for quite a while. And of course, carrying around a thermos of warm water, or sourcing hot water when out to sea can be a daunting task. Finally, controlling water temperature if it’s too hot or not hot enough is a near impossible task when you’re on a boat. It is for this reason that we’ve designed the first ever lionfish sting treatment.
Life-changing: StingMaster Ointment
Hope is on its way! StingMaster is an ointment that you can just leave in your dive bag or first aid kit - no need to think about preparing hot water in advance, or using the dirty water from the jet of the out-board cooling system on your boat. It provides pain relief from lionfish stings rapidly and can bring you from a 9/10 pain rating to a 2/10 pain rating in under 5 minutes (we speak from experience, but more on that in another post...)
So, what should you do when you’re stung by a lionfish?
1. Surface safely from your dive as soon as you can.
Victims will tell you: if you don’t feel pain immediately, don’t worry, it’s coming. And you don’t want to start feeling it while you're underwater.
2. Wash the wound area.
This can vary depending on where you are. If you have access to water and soap, this is the best option. Thoroughly flush the area with water and clean with soap as well as you can. If you don’t have access to water, use alcohol (70%) to disinfect the area. This will sting, but it is absolutely essential that you clean the area to prevent infections, which can cause tissue necrosis and other unfavourable side effects in the long run. If you don't have access to either soap & water or alcohol, just flush the area thoroughly with clean seawater.
3. Quickly apply our StingMaster ointment (get it here) generously to the sting site and around it. (Re-apply every 45 minutes or so to maintain pain relief)
4. Relax, the worst is over, now you can get back to having fun!
DO NOT USE ICE! Trust us on this, you will thank us later.
We’ve seen a few places online that recommend using ice to help with swelling after a lionfish sting. While this can help with swelling due to other causes (like a sprained ankle), that’s not the case for lionfish stings. As we mentioned above, the pain-causing toxins in lionfish venom are heat-sensitive, so if you’re icing the sting zone you’re essentially preserving those toxins and letting them do even more damage.
So don’t ice lionfish stings!! Even if it feels good for a brief time, it’s not helpful for you in the long run.
Every once in a while, even the bravest of us will have to give up a bit of our dignity for the comfort of being pain-free. Luckily for us all, this is not one of those times. Spare yourself the embarrassment and the risk of being the funny story that your friends will repeat for years
Please-- PLEASE don’t use urine on a lionfish sting. Toxins in the lionfish venom are not sensitive to ammonia, so any relief you might find from peeing on yourself (or having someone else do the honors) comes from the placebo effect. But if you have tried it, please share your unfortunate story in the comments below.
Do yourself a favour and just get StingBlocker instead, it’s just as easy to have around and you get to keep your pride unharmed.
If you experience any of the following symptoms after being stung by a lionfish, please seek medical attention immediately: shock (shortness of breath, weakness, fainting, cardiac arrest), anaphylaxis (airway constriction, low blood pressure, weak or rapid pulse, nausea or vomiting, dizziness).
If you think there may be a piece of lionfish spine still in your skin, please seek medical attention to have it removed.
Happy lionfish hunting!