What do you do after being stung by a lionfish?
First step, don’t panic, you’re going to be OK. No one has ever died from a lionfish stung, although a few have thought they might. You’ve got a few minutes before the pain really starts to kick in. A lot of what comes next depends on how many spines stuck you, how deep they went, and how much venom was injected. If you were underwater for the sting, notify your dive buddy, abort your dive and start heading up. Don’t skip your safety stop, there is a lot more risk from decompression sickness than from a lionfish sting. Most stings are to the hands, so if you are wearing a ring on the hand that was stung remove it right away. The hand will swell and you’ll be cutting that wedding band later if you don’t remove it now. Some people feel that you can ‘milk’ the venom out by squeezing the flesh around the injection site to force the venom out. First, you want to remove any piece of spine or debris that may be in the wound site. Clean and disinfect the wound if able. Stop any bleeding if present.
Heat is the single best thing you can do for a lionfish sting
Soak wound for at least 30 minutes in heated, non-scalding water as soon as possible. The lionfish venom is protein based and is neutralized by the hot water thus preventing the protein from moving into the blood stream. The hot water is also very effective at controlling the pain. Even though you will probably start to see swelling of the injured area, DO NOT APPLY ICE! Use a heat pack, or hot water from the boats exhaust. Some divers carry a thermos of hot water when planning to hunt lionfish for just this reason. If not close to medical care, you can take BENADRYL (antihistamine) and IBUPROFEN (Motrin or Advil) and inflammatory. Medication will not only reduce the pain but even more importantly it will reduce the swelling that can cause even more damage to the affected area by causing pressure in the arteries, veins, and lymph ducts.
It’s important to monitor for shock and to seek proper medical attention as soon as possible.
There are many other complications that can arise from any marine creature envenomation such as shortness of breath, weakness, fainting, and cardiac arrest due to shock from the extreme pain. There is always a chance of infection, so proper cleaning and care of the wound is critical. Lionfish venom can cause tissue necrosis that has the ability to spread if not properly treated as soon as it is noticed. The photos below are of some of the worst lionfish stings that we’ve seen.