How to Treat Bee or Wasp StingsDr. Jorge Parada
- National Pest Management Association
Monday, August 26, 2013
The summer months,
while the most enjoyable time of the year for many people, also
bring the risk of painful insect stings from bees, wasps and
yellowjackets as humans and insects spend more time together in the
great outdoors. The most serious sting-related reactions come from
insects that belong to the Apidae family (honey bees and bumble bees) or
Vespidae family (yellowjackets, yellow hornets, white
faced hornets, and paper wasps).
In general, these insects tend to sting people or animals when
they feel threatened or perceive a threat to their nests or hives.
Regardless of the circumstances, people who get stung will
immediately feel a sharp, burning pain, rapidly followed by a red
welt at the sting site, with a small, white spot at the center
marking where the stinger punctured the skin. In most cases, the
swelling and pain resolves within a few hours, however, as many as
10 percent of individuals develop a large local reaction
experiencing exaggerated redness and swelling at the sting site
that continues to gradually enlarge to around four-inches in
diameter. After peaking around the second day, these reactions
resolve over a period of five to 10 days.
In rare cases, approximately 3 percent of the public,
individuals experience an extreme allergic reaction known as
anaphylaxis. These reactions may be life threatening and require
immediate medical treatment. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include
generalized itching, rashes or hives, tightness or swelling in the
throat, upset stomach, including pain, nausea and vomiting, as well
as dizziness. In one percent of anaphylaxis cases, people may
experience severe shortness of breath, a drop in blood pressure,
loss of consciousness and shock. While there are other causes of
anaphylaxis, stinging insects are the leading cause of
anaphylaxis-related deaths in the United States. Each year,
stinging insects send approximately half a million people to the emergency
Preventing the Sting
The best way to avoid the sting is to avoid attracting stinging
insects in the first place.
- Trim vegetation near your home, as thick vegetation may provide
nesting places for wasps and bees. Yellowjackets and wasps often
nest in ground under porches. If you, or a family member, are
allergic to bee stings, it’s best to keep flowering plants to a
minimum on the property.
- Overseed grassy areas to get better coverage, as this will
deter ground-nesting insects.
- Keep garbage in sealed receptacles and thoroughly rinse soda
cans and other containers before placing them in recycling or
- Do not leave sweet drinks or meats in accessible areas and
serve drinks in clear cups so you can easily spot an insect before
you sip. Keep food covered in outdoor areas and be sure to remove
food and trash after picnics and outdoor events.
- Note that DEET and other insect repellents are not effective
against bees, wasps and hornets.
- Do not swat at stinging insects as it may provoke them. Instead
gently blow on it from a distance.
- If you suspect an infestation or notice a hive or nest on your
property, contact a licensed pest professional to safely remove the
threat. Do not try to do it yourself.
Treating the Sting
While yellowjackets, hornets and wasps tend to sting repeatedly
during an attack, bees are equipped with barbed stingers that
typically become lodged in the skin and rip away, along with the
venom sac, from the insect's body at the time of the sting.
Therefore, if stung, it is important to remove the stinger as
rapidly as possible by any means possible, because venom can
continue to be released for several seconds. All stingers should be
removed because if left in place they may cause a foreign body
reaction or become infected. Symptoms of an infection include
increased redness, swelling, and pain three to five days after the
sting, or development of fever and chills.
If stung, it is important to immediately clean the area with
soap and cold water and to use a cold compression such as ice or an
ice pack. If the sting is on an extremity, it is helpful to elevate
the limb. If needed, over the counter nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain, while an
antihistamine and hydrocortisone ointment can help calm the local
reaction. In case the local reaction worsens, healthcare providers
may prescribe an oral steroid or antihistamine to help calm the
swelling or itching.
People should seek out emergency medical assistance or call 911
if they experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as tongue
and throat swelling, wheezing, dizziness, shortness of breath or
drop in blood pressure. Anyone allergic to stinging insects or a
parent of a child who is allergic, should learn how to use and
equip themselves with an epinephrine kit and carry it with them at
all times.View Comments
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