Our most common local stinging insects are bees, including the honeybee and the bumblebee, and wasps, which include yellowjackets, paper wasps and hornets.
Yellowjackets are attracted to our delicious picnic food and are more aggressive than bees, but none of these stinging insects usually randomly attack people. They sting defensively, when they feel that their nests are threatened. They also sting when stepped on, sat upon or in some way provoked. Africanized “killer bees” are not more venomous than regular bees, but they get their bad reputation for being much more aggressive, and therefore more dangerous.
If one is attacked by many bees or yellowjackets, it is best to leave the area and run away as fast as possible. These insects are capable of flying as fast as 15 miles per hour and pursuing for distances of 50 to 100 yards. Don’t run too slowly or stop too soon!
A bee inside of a moving car will not usually sting and wants out as badly as the occupants want it out. Do not panic! Lowering windows to let it escape is the best way to deal with such a situation.
Bees and wasps only sting, they do not bite. Wasps, including yellowjackets, can sting multiple times and leave no stingers in their victims. This is in contrast to the poor honeybee, which sacrifices its life with its sting. It actually leaves its stinger and part of its abdomen with the venom sack attached to the skin of the victim.
The bee’s stinging apparatus continues injecting venom into its victim for as long as one minute after the sting. That is why the new accepted method to remove the stinger is just to pull it out with your fingertips as fast as possible. Taking the time to find something to scrape off the stinger, as was previously recommended, just wastes time and allows more venom to be injected at the sting site. Tests have proven that pinching out a stinger doesn’t force out more venom.
Stings are exceptionally painful. The best local treatment is to immediately place an ice pack on the sting site for as long as several hours. Home remedies, such as applying pastes of meat tenderizer, clay, toothpaste, aspirin and baking soda, have no proven benefit. That is probably because the venom is deposited deep into the skin, where such surface treatments can not be effective. Taking an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, by mouth may help with itching.
A local toxic reaction to the venom occurring within hours to days after the sting may involve redness and swelling of just a small area around the sting, or a much larger reaction often involving an entire arm or leg. As bad as this may seem, it is not serious and not life-threatening and will resolve on its own in a matter of days.
These reactions are sometimes mistaken for a secondary infection, but this is very rarely the case, and antibiotics are hardly ever necessary. A sting on the face may cause worrisome swelling, but it is not dangerous. A sting inside the mouth or throat, however, can be quite serious and needs to be treated promptly.
Almost every person who is stung will have at least a mild reaction at the sting site. Less than one percent of the population will have a severe allergic reaction.
Serious allergic reactions may occur within minutes or as long as several hours after the sting. Usually, the more serious the reaction, the sooner it occurs.
There is no definite pattern to the reaction of future stings, which may cause reactions either more severe or less severe than with previous stings. For those who have suffered a serious reaction to a sting, I would recommend a consultation with a medical care provider, who may recommend allergy shots to make the person less sensitive. An injectable adrenaline kit, such as an “Epipen,” may be prescribed to treat future serious allergic sting reactions.
Bee careful this summer!
At a glance
Here’s what to do when you’re stung by a bee or a wasp:
If the insect was a bee, pull the stinger out as fast as possible, by any method.
Get as far out of the vicinity of stinging insects as you can, as fast as possible.
Apply ice compresses to the sting.
Take Benadryl by mouth as soon as possible.
Call 9-1-1 if you experience the following symptoms:
Swollen tongue or throat
A feeling of faintness