Despite her obvious joy in unnerving me, she was stating the truth – sharks actually do feed at night. This could be considered a good thing though, since people overwhelmingly prefer to swim in the ocean while the sun shines.
This sensible system created by nature keeps the people and the sharks generally away from each other. Your chance of being killed by lightning is 20 times higher than being killed in a shark attack. So, don’t let sharks ruin your day at the beach.
Most beach injuries caused by ocean critters are much less exciting than shark attacks. Sea urchins look like black pin cushions with 2-inch needles and are usually attached to rocks. They don’t bite, sting, or move, but if you slap one, the brittle spines will break off and imbed under your skin.
These spines aren’t toxic or poisonous, so it’s really just a thick hard splinter. It might be difficult to remove, but if it doesn’t get infected, it will eventually dissolve. This injury is not dangerous, just merely irritating.
Jellyfish are occasionally encountered at the beach while swimming or just strolling at the waterline. If they are present in any number, lifeguards will typically warn swimmers and close the beach. However, jellyfish can be found almost any time.
Jellyfish have stinging cells in their tentacles that are usually still present, even if the jelly is dead and washed up on the beach. Touch one with your bare foot and you will be sorry.
These stinging cells shoot microscopic arrows into your skin that are filled with venom. The pain can be minor or extreme, depending on the type of jellyfish. If you get unlucky with a sting, the first thing to do would be scraping the tentacles off yourself with a credit card, being very careful not to touch the darn things with your fingers.
Next, apply some vinegar to deactivate any remaining stinging cells. Try a baking soda and water paste as well. If you are not in Australia, where a few species of jellyfish can actually kill or make a person very sick, you will most likely recover uneventfully.
If you are swimming and feel an occasional sting on your skin, you are likely encountering jellyfish that have been broken up by the surf. Even a small touch can sting you a little.
Stingrays are occasionally found at the beach as well. They are not aggressive and will not attack. Step on one, however, and it will slap you with its tail on your foot. The tail has a barbed end with a toxin (poison) coating, so stepping on one would really hurt. The barb often breaks off in the wound and needs to be removed by a doctor.
First-aid treatment would be to soak the foot in hot water. The toxin breaks down with heat, but just be careful not to burn yourself. These wounds also have the possibility of getting infected. It would probably be easier to just shuffle your feet when walking in shallow water and scare them away.
A sunburn is about a million times more common than the more interesting but painful creature mishaps. But get good sunburn and it will ruin your trip.
Avoiding a sunburn is all about prevention. It doesn’t matter whether the sunblock’s SPF is 20, 100, or more waterproof than a flipper. You must reapply the sunblock because it actually breaks down in the sun’s rays. It gets used-up. Reapply every four hours, otherwise you will become best friends with ibuprofen, and lose interest in all vacation activities (don’t touch me!).
The beach can be a really great family vacation. It keeps the kids entertained and may even bring out the child in you. Family beach days are precious. Use a little precaution, keep up on the fluids, and you will make them memorable as well.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.