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Longboater's stingray experience common but no less painful

Hot water is the key to initial treatment and release, a physician and an EMS deputy chief say.

(File photo)
(File photo)
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Does everyone know the stingray shuffle? Stings are common in this area, especially during the summer beach season.

They’re also easy to treat in most cases, medical professionals say. 

Kathy Groob says stingray venom causes too much pain to be called just a sting.
Kathy Groob says stingray venom causes too much pain to be called just a sting.

“In urgent care, I used to see them all the time,” Dr. James Reed of the Reed Medical Group said. 

But out of about 100 cases, he’s only had to cut out two barbs. A barb, the part of a ray's tail used for defense, that is stuck in a person is more serious because there’s a greater chance of infection.

“I don’t know why they call it a sting. It is not a sting,” said Kathy Groob, who recently stepped on a stingray while on Longboat Key. 

She described the pain as pulsing, stabbing and burning all at once. At first, it felt like a crab pinch or getting stabbed with a stick, she said, but within 10 to 15 minutes, the pain spread up her leg. 

Excruciating pain sets off a panic alarm, and people race to the emergency room when most stings can be treated faster and more easily at home with hot water.

“It breaks down the proteins and toxins,” Reed said. 

He advises soaking the puncture wound and changing the water to keep it hot. If it’s still painful after a week, Reed recommends an X-ray to look for a piece of the stinger. 

It was nearly five hours before Groob could stop soaking her foot, and two weeks later, it’s still swollen but painless. Swelling around the puncture wound can last several weeks, Reed said.

May through October is stingray mating season. They’re more likely to be stepped on because they’re burying themselves in the sand.

Four people on Longboat Key have called 911 because of stingrays this year. EMS Assistant Chief Martin Szalbirak said first responders carry a hot water pack. If the patient is staying at a resort, they’ll guide them to the hot tub, if available. 

“That will relieve some of the pain,” he said. “There’s relief enough that it doesn’t require transport by ambulance.”



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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