Nettles are plants with sharp hairs on their leaves. If you touch them, these hairs inject irritants into the skin, making it itchy, red and swollen.
Stinging nettle is a common weed. It’s found in gardens, waste areas, near where animals live, and around moist areas such as creeks.
In New Zealand there are three species: the native ongaonga (giant tree nettle), and two introduced varieties.
Photo of ongaonga (giant tree nettle), by Avenue.
If you or a family member has been stung by nettles, the symptoms will usually be:
- burning and itching, for a short time
- redness, weals and swelling, sometimes small blisters
- numbness or pins and needles that can last for days.
Most nettle stings cause no further problems and require no treatment.
Self care for nettle stings
- Wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible to relieve the sting and remove the nettle hairs. If no water is available, clean the area with a cloth or other available material.
- Apply a paste of baking soda and water.
- Avoid scratching or rubbing the itchy areas.
- Use cool, light, bedding and clothing as this will help relieve itching.
- Avoid extreme heat – have lukewarm baths and showers.
- Apply cold compresses.
- Antihistamines such as Telfast, Claratyne and Phenergan may relieve itching and swelling. A cream with hydrocortisone will reduce inflammation. You can get these from your pharmacy.
- Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or aspirin-containing products to anyone 18 years or younger because of the risk of a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with food or milk to prevent stomach irritation. Do not give NSAIDs to anyone with:
- NSAID-induced asthma
- increased risk of bleeding, such as ulcer disease, a bleeding disorder, if taking blood thinners (anticoagulants), or following surgery, significant trauma or major dental work
- an allergy to NSAIDs.