Sun, Sea, and Stings - Turning the Tide with Homeopathy
Updated: Jul 17
Ahhhhh, vacation.....there's nothing better than finally arriving at a beautiful beach with the sun shining, wind in your hair, sand in your toes, and.....a jellyfish wrapped around your leg?!? That wasn't in the plans!! And your vacation has just begun! What to do, but turn to homeopathy for the rescue! Read on to see how I treated my desperate patient who had just arrived to Italy for the vacation of her dreams only to be met with a sea creature who had other plans. Originally published in a wonderful publication, Homeopathy Today from the National Center of Homeopathy, this is one of my favorite cases showing the wonders of homeopathic treatment for acute conditions when conventional medicine falls short - including jellyfish stings!
Sun, Sea, and Stings: Turning the Tide with Homeopathy (Homeopathy Today, 2018)
Nazanin Vassighi, ND
After months of planning, anticipating, and counting down the days to your destination vacation, there is nothing more satisfying than stepping off the airplane and being greeted by the warm summer sun. Summer vacation brings the promise of fun, adventure, quality family time, and relaxation after a year’s worth of hard work. In an effort to create the perfect experience, we often take great care in packing the essentials to prevent and treat acute illness, should it arise while we are away. However, things inevitably do go wrong when we least expect – or want – them to.
Travelling with a homeopathic remedy kit is one of the easiest ways to handle our most basic and common first aid needs when we are abroad. For our common bruises, Arnica is second-to-none. Calendula cleans up nasty scrapes, and even a case of too-many-margaritas is no match for Nux vomica. However, some of our most basic remedies are also well equipped to handle some unlikely vacation nightmares, particularly ones that we may have no experience with treating homeopathically. If we always remember and correctly apply our basic homeopathic philosophy of Like Cures Like, then even the most out of the ordinary conditions are easily treated with homeopathy, as exemplified by one of my patient’s experiences last summer while on her dream vacation to Europe.
Mitra is a beloved patient of mine, a recent retiree who had decided to spend a summer abroad with her husband after years of dreaming of living the European lifestyle. Mitra loves the seaside, is an avid swimmer, and had always dreamed of swimming in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. After months of meticulous planning, research, booking flights and lodging, and practicing some rudimentary Italian, Mitra and her husband were ready to spend 2 months in Italy. After landing in Milan, she boarded a train to the 5 villages of Cinque Terre, where she spent her first night in Vernazza, and then hiked to the small beach town of Monterosso al Mare. Feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep and a plentiful breakfast, Mitra headed to the shore to spend the afternoon swimming and sunbathing. Soon after she entered the warm ocean waters, while taking in the beauty of her surroundings, she suddenly felt something strange brush against her right leg once, and then twice as if it had lightly wrapped itself around her calf and shin. Almost instantaneously, she felt an intense, searing pain through her leg, and immediately swam to shore to seek her husband. Once safe on land, she discovered her lower leg had several areas of slightly reddened and raised skin, akin to thick, large scratches.
After overcoming the initial shock, Mitra washed her rash with fresh water and sought out the local pharmacy. European pharmacists often serve as first-line health practitioners, similar to our ‘Minute Clinics’ here in the US, providing a quick consult and subsequent medicine suitable for treatment. The pharmacist identified the rash was due to a jellyfish sting and prescribed an oral anti-histamine, assuring her that it should begin to resolve in 24-48 hours. She warned Mitra to stay out of the sea for the time being as there had been reports of many jellyfish sightings since the start of tourist season, but not to worry, as it was a common injury. At this point her pain and itching was quite minimal, and she was relieved to know that this was only a minor setback.
Jellyfish, known as medusa in Greek, are named after their likeness to the mythological figure of Medusa, a winged monster with living venomous snakes as her hair. Though quite beautiful and graceful in their movement, they range from harmless to quite poisonous. When stung, some species create no more than a mild skin irritation that fades on its own within a few days, but others, such as the Portuguese Man-of-War, can be quite deadly; they can induce symptoms of shock and cardiovascular arrest, similar to an anaphylactic reaction in susceptible individuals. Jellyfish utilize the stingers, located on their many tentacles, in situations calling for self-defense. The process of the sting begins first with the insertion of the stinger, which is shaped like a harpoon and designed to stay embedded in the victim, and second with the injection of venom which causes the maintained local skin rash, itching, and pain syndrome.
There are many types of treatments, both highly researched as well as folklore or home remedies. Typically, the use of vinegar or ammonia on the affected area has been said to degrade the venom quicker, which reduces pain and intensity of the rash. You may have even heard of some stories suggesting that urine, whose primary ingredient is ammonia, is the best antidote to a jellyfish sting! However, given the myriad of jellyfish species, using vinegar or ammonia is no longer the suggested first-line treatment. Scientists now recommend that upon the discovery of a sting, the most important treatment is first washing the area with salt water, not tap or fresh water, and if possible to mix the sea water with baking soda. Vinegar or ammonia-based liquids should not be applied if the species of jellyfish is unknown to the victim or any witnesses, as this can actually aggravate certain types of stings. Secondly, topical applications to control pain and swelling, such as lidocaine and steroid cream are usually recommended, in addition to oral anti-histamines. Depending on the species of jellyfish sting, the induced rash may fade within several days, weeks, or can even leave a permanent mark, all of which are bad news for anyone looking to enjoy their vacation!
Mitra took her anti-histamines and over the next 24 hours, the pain of the sting increased, in addition to relentless itching. The next day, she and her husband travelled to nearby town of Lucca and received a second opinion from another pharmacist. They also agreed that Mitra had been stung by a jellyfish, and additionally prescribed her a topical steroid cream. Unfortunately, this treatment also proved unsuccessful, and the rash continued to worsen in terms of pain, itching, and sensitivity. At this point, she rated the severity of her symptoms as 7-8/10 in intensity (with 10 being the highest!), and noted quite a bit of burning and stinging pain. The rash itself felt quite hot to touch, and was aggravated from showering with any hot or warm water. She had resorted to wearing long pants to avoid any sun exposure which would cause her rash to burn intensely. Mitra even had difficulty sleeping because of unbearable itching that started in the evening, nor could she cover herself with the bed spread as her leg was quite sensitive to touch and aggravated by the heat of the covers. The flare continued for 3 additional days, as she sought a third pharmacist’s opinion in town. He concluded that since the rash was not responding to treatment, Mitra should expect permanent scarring even after the resolution of the sting especially if she had any additional sun exposure. What terrible news, as now she could not enjoy the summer sunshine or even enter the water not only for fear of another sting, but for delay of healing. She felt miserable, constantly hiding in the shade, lamenting that she was missing out on the fun of her vacation, and not to mention this now unsightly scar that would remain on her leg as a subtle reminder of how things had taken a turn for the worse.
At this point Mina decided to see if there was anything that homeopathy could do to help. I received an email from her stating her troubles and we had an acute visit over the phone to collect her symptoms. She also sent me a few photos of her leg so I could get a visual inspection of her rash, as these observations are indispensable for precise, acute homeopathic treatment
The most characteristic symptoms of her case include the following symptoms:
· Purple-reddish elevated rash, appearing much like hives (urticarial),
· Burning, stinging pains, worse from sun exposure, hot applications or bathing in hot water
· Very itchy at night, aggravated by the heat of the bed
· General amelioration of symptoms from cold water, applications, ice.
· Sensitive to touch
Based on these symptoms, I considered homeopathic Urtica urens, Lachesis, and Apis as my top remedies. Given the rash’s slightly purplish hue, aggravation from heat and the sun with subsequent amelioration from cold, I thought of Lachesis as a possible treatment, however the remedy does not cover the type of rash – the raised, hive-like presentation is not consistent with Lachesis skin disorders, which are typically characterized by ulcers, fluid-filled vesicles, and are usually much more bluish-purple or black. My decision-making rested between Urtica urens and Apis. Urtica urens fit much of the picture of Mitra’s rash: itching, red blotches of hives with burning heat and stinging sensation, aggravated from bathing and heat – it sounded like a perfect fit! Yet, two modalities did not fit her case well, which is amelioration of the itch and burning from rubbing and from lying down. Mitra could hardly touch her rash without pain and noticed quite a bit of aggravation at night when she was trying to sleep, regardless of movement or while lying still. Therefore, Apis appeared to be the best fit, given the intensely deep, red, large hive-like rash, burning and stinging pains with hot, dry skin, itching most aggravated at night preventing sleep, great sensitivity to touch and heat, and amelioration from cool air and cold bathing. I advised her to start with a higher potency, as is recommended for acute symptoms so the potency strength matches the intensity of the condition for faster and finer results.
By this time, Mitra and her husband had travelled to Florence for a few days, and had greater access to pharmacies that carried homeopathic remedies. She was able to locate one and pick up both Apis and Urtica urens in the 200c potency to have on hand. I recommended she begin with Apis 200c, 3 pellets dosed 4 times per day, and asked her to send me an email about her progress the next day.
The following day, I opened my email to find an exciting message from Mitra. Since starting the Apis, in just 24 hours the itching and the burning pains had completely resolved! She immediately noticed improvements after her first dose, with consistent resolution. She also noted a change in the appearance of the rash, with decreased purple and reddish discoloration, fading both in color and intensity. She decided to continue to avoid direct sun exposure just to be safe, and I assured her that she was definitely on the right track, and continue with this acute dosing.
2 days later, Mina contacted me with even better news. She sent me some picture updates to correlate with how well she was feeling. The pictures below speak for themselves to the power of homeopathy after 4 days of consistent treatment with Apis 200c. Much of the original intensity of the rashes in addition to the distressing physical symptoms had improved approximately 90%!
So much for permanent scarring! Now settled in Lecce, Italy, Mitra was able to return to sunbathing and swimming in both the pool and the sea with no aggravation of either to her rash. She no longer felt great sensitivity to touch, and was amazed with how much the rash had resolved. Although she was nervous about returning to the ocean, she felt empowered with having the right tools to help her should ‘lightning strike twice.’ Another few days later, only a trace amount of the skin rash remained. Mitra was overjoyed and so thankful for homeopathic treatment, which succeeded where conventional medicine had failed her. She went on to enjoy the rest of her time in Italy, her European dreams becoming a true reality.
It’s important to note that even though we are familiar with our first-aid kit remedies, like Apis and Urtica urens to treat insect, bee stings or first degree burns, we may not realize that even a jellyfish sting is something that can be treated with these very same remedies! As long as the symptoms in the case are matched as closely to the symptom picture of a homeopathic remedy, many of our common remedies are well equipped to treat nearly any acute illness! However, it is important to remember that in cases with particularly alarming symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips, mouth, or throat, dizziness, fainting, head injuries, or shock it is imperative to immediately seek emergency medical treatment to treat any potentially life-threatening conditions.
In terms of finding the right prescription, fortunately many of our remedies have significant overlap with each other – that is to say that some remedies possess comparable or identical symptoms that are separated by modality or other general symptoms. For example, Natrum muriaticum and Ignatia are similar in that they treat ailments from grief, sadness, desire to be alone with aggravation from consolation but Natrum muriaticum desires salt while Ignatia abhors the smell of tobacco. Given that Urtica urens and Apis are two similar remedies, it is more than likely that Mitra would have also gained benefit from Urtica urens had I decided to prescribe it first because the remedy’s symptom picture is quite similar to, or acts as a simile to the disease process in general. Therefore, if you are debating between two quite similar remedies for prescription that appear well indicated, choosing either one will likely create some positive change. Just be sure to pay attention to any new symptoms that may arise soon after beginning homeopathic treatment; our body’s natural healing ability is wise and if the remedy you chose isn’t the best fit, it will provide you with new, clear symptoms that will indicate the next best remedy for healing.
Additionally, in both acute and chronic cases, some practitioners will utilize isopathy, wherein the causative agent of a disease is diluted and given as treatment, such as Influenzinum created from the influenza virus to treat any case of the flu. In these cases, there is no emphasis on any of the individualizing or characteristic presenting symptoms in the case; if you have the flu, then you take Influenzinum, much like the OTC product Oscillococcinum to be taken on the first signs of flu-like illness. In fact, there is even a homeopathic remedy by the name of Medusa created from jellyfish which could have been an additional contender in Mitra’s case! However, upon reading the remedy description, the skin symptoms are very plain – burning sensation with redness and prickling heat. In my clinical experience, using the isopathic remedy for an illness is just not as effective as finding the correct homeopathic remedy that matches the exact symptom picture of the illness, often resulting in less-than-optimal improvement.
Given that our homeopathic remedies have such robust and rich breadth, taking the time to collect detailed symptoms in a patient’s case, including the basics of the sensation, it’s location, and what makes it better or worse, will result in great cases like Mitra’s. Precise homeopathic prescriptions bear positive results, which greatly impact a patient’s life so they can live up to their fullest potential, especially while on vacation!