Lionfish Invade the Mediterranean – First Aid Treatment after a Sting

August 5th 2019

The summer period in Cyprus can reach temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius and this can affect the sea temperature also. This has caused a chain reaction to the ecosystem and attracted a large number of Lionfish from the Indo-Pacific Oceans to the Mediterranean Sea over the last few years.

The attractive yet dangerous Lionfish

The Lionfish even though is one of the most attractive fishes, it’s an invasive species and a top predator in the marine world. It’s a tropical marine assassin and in its arsenal,  it carries at least 16 stealthy venomous spines that are hidden under the glandular tissue of the fish. Even though the spines are designed as a defence mechanism against other marine life, the Lionfish will react aggressively if encountered by a human being. There have been no deaths by a sting of a Lionfish, but extreme caution must be taken.

In most recent times, there has been an increase of Lionfish all over Cyprus, covering even the Zenobia shipwreck – a famous scuba diving location in Cyprus waters – where this invasive species has sought refuge. This has proven to be dangerous for humans who frequently dive to this location, as this predator delivers a painful sting from its venomous spines. Due to this very reason, in July 2019, marine removal teams have been trained to go on a mass Lionfish removal at the shipwreck area to prevent any harm done.

Take action if you’re stung by a Lionfish

If you have been stung by a Lionfish, the first thing you need to do is not panic. Lionfish stings are not deadly, but their venom will cause you swelling and strong localised pain that you will feel within a few minutes, so be prepared for that.

You need to remain calm, focused and think quickly. Although it’s relevant to know the amount of times the Lionfish has stung and how deep the spine has penetrated you, you need to act quickly if you are under water. So, if you’re with a dive buddy, you must notify them and abort your dive and head back up.

Most stings are to the hands, so if you are wearing jewellery, remove them because the swelling will make it hard to remove later.

You must remove the piece of spine or debris that is in the wound and begin to clean, disinfect and stop any bleeding if any.

Note that heat is an effective element and can prove to be helpful if stung by a Lionfish. You can neutralise the venom and prevent it from moving further into the bloodstream by soaking your wound in heated water for at least 30 minutes. This will also soothe the pain. Keep note of the below actions to take in case of a sting:

  • Hot water from the boat’s exhaust can be used to soak your wound and prevent swelling and pain.
  • Apply heat packs to the area of the wound to reduce further swelling and pain.
  • Thermos of hot water is a must when going spear hunting of predatory fishes like Lionfish.
  • Do not apply ice or cold packs on your swelling

Some specialists recommend, especially if medical care centers are far, the use antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. These medications will reduce pain but also reduce swelling that could potentially cause more damage to arteries, veins or other pressurized areas.

Other implications may arise if stung by a Lionfish, such as shortness of breath, weakness, fainting and cardiac arrest due to shock from the extreme pain. Lionfish venom can also cause tissue necrosis and in some cases can spread if not treated properly and in time. Be sure to seek medical attention if any of the above occur.

As some individuals may be affected by the toxins to a higher degree, first aid knowledge could come vital including the use of CPR, transportation of victim from a life-threatening position, recovery position, on-going assessment, all part of our first aid training courses which we recommend you to maintain in knowledge and skillset.