First Aid for Nettle Stings

By Bill, posted
The common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a plant that is native to the UK and can reach heights of up to two metres. The tiny hairs on the plant's leaves can cause the skin to sting and swell. Although not typically threatening these stings will require some basic first aid treatment  to alleviate any pain. 

Signs and Symptoms 

Stinging nettles are found in woodland areas, forests and overgrown gardens. Children will often suffer nettle stings whilst at play, whilst adults could be stung through activities like gardening and outdoor sports. Look out for the following symptoms:
  • Stinging sensation
  • Red patches that can appear raised when someone has white skin. The rash can be more difficult to distinguish when someone has brown or black skin
  • Red or white spots on the skin


It’s best to get away from the area that contains stinging nettles so that no further stings occur. Next wash the affected area with soapy water, and tell the affected person to avoid scratching or itching the skin.

The discomfort should ease within 1-2 hours after being stung. It’s unusual to be allergic to these types of stings, but if the pain does not go away seek medical attention via a pharmacist or GP.
Hint - In the meantime put a cold compress / ice pack on the skin. To avoid burning the skin, always cover the ice pack with a tea towel or cloth.

Although rare, it is possible for someone to have an anaphylaxis reaction when stung by nettles. In these cases, see if the casualty has an auto injector pen for treatment.

Always call 999 / 112 when a casualty is suspected of having anaphylaxis

Dock leaves?

Most people have heard the old wives’ tale of rubbing a dock leaf against the affected area of skin after contact with stinging nettles.

Unfortunately there is no medical evidence to suggest that the dock leave counteracts the negative effects on the skin after a nettle sting. So why do people do it?

It’s hard to say - like many old wives' tales - exactly why techniques get written into folklore. However it is possible that the rubbing motion of the leaf combined with its sap can have a soothing feeling just like the soapy water / ice pack. Or it could just be the placebo / psychological effect of finding that dock leaf.

Photo by Paul Morley on Unsplash

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