|Wasps and bees sting to defend themselves or their colony. Stinging involves
the injection of a protein venom that causes pain and other reactions.
Wasps and bumble bees can sting more than once because they are able to pull
out their stinger without injury to themselves. If you are stung by a wasp or
bumble bee, the stinger is not left in your skin.
Honey bees have barbs on their stinger which remain hooked in the skin. The
stinger, which is connected to the digestive system of the bee, is torn out of
the abdomen as the bee attempts to fly away. As a result, the bee soon dies. If
you are stung by a honey bee, scratch out the stinger (with its attached venom
gland) with your fingernail as soon as possible. Do not try to pull out the
stinger between two fingers. Doing so only forces more venom into your skin,
causing greater irritation.
Most people have only local reactions to wasp and bee stings, although a few
may experience more serious allergic reactions. Local, nonallergic reactions
range from burning, itching, redness, and tenderness to massive swelling and
itching that may last up to a week. These local reactions can be treated with
ice, vinegar, honey, meat tenderizer, or commercial topical ointment to relieve
the itching. An allergic reaction may include hives or rash, swelling away from
the sting site, headache, minor respiratory symptoms, and stomach upset. These
allergic reactions are not life-threatening and can be readily treated
with an antihistamine.
Very rarely, a person may suffer a life-threatening, systemic allergic
reaction to a bee or wasp sting, which can cause anaphylactic shock (fainting,
difficulty breathing, swelling, and blockage in the throat) within minutes of
being stung. These systemic symptoms are cause for immediate medical attention.
People with known systemic allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings should
consult with their physician to obtain an Epi-PenTM or Ana-Guard
Sting KitTM to carry with them at all times. The venoms of bees and
wasps are different, so having a severe reaction to a wasp sting does not mean a
person will have the same reaction to a bee sting.
The danger of bee stings:
The two greatest risks from most insect stings are allergic reaction
(which occasionally, in some individuals could be fatal) and infection
(more common and less serious).
What to do if you are stung:
If you have been stung by a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket, follow
these instructions closely:
- Bees leave behind a stinger attached to a venom sac. Do not try to
pull it out as this may release more venom; instead gently scrape it out
with a blunt-edged object, such as a credit card or dull knife.
- Wash the area carefully with soap and water. This should be
continued several times a day until the skin is healed.
- Apply a cold or ice pack, wrapped in cloth for a few minutes.
- Apply a paste of baking soda and water and leave it on for 15 to 20
- Take acetaminophen for pain.
Other remedies for pain and itching may include:
- dabbing on a tiny amount of household ammonia.
Over-the-counter products which contain ammonia are also available for
- taking an over-the-counter antihistamine, if approved by your
Be sure to follow dosage instructions for children.
When to seek medical attention:
Seek immediate medical attention if you are stung in the mouth or nose as
swelling may block airways. Also seek emergency care if any of the
following symptoms are present, as these could indicate an allergic
- large areas of swelling
- abnormal breathing
- tightness in throat or chest
- nausea or vomiting
- persistent pain or swelling