Late summer is the time we see more yellow jackets buzzing around us. These stinging insects are attracted to our delicious picnic food and are more aggressive than the common honeybee, but neither one usually attacks randomly. They sting defensively when they or their nests are threatened. They also sting when stepped on, sat upon or in some way provoked.
Yellow jackets can sting multiple times and do not leave behind their stingers. This is in contrast to the honeybee, which leaves its stinger in its victim. (It is now recommended to remove the stinger as quickly as possible, using one’s fingers to pull it out.)
Stings are very painful and are best treated by immediately placing ice over the sting. Taking the antihistamine Benadryl may also be helpful.
A reaction to the sting may occur within hours or days after the sting. It may be manifested by redness and swelling of just a small area around the sting or by a much larger reaction, often involving an entire arm or leg. This is just a toxic reaction to the venom and will resolve on its own in a matter of days. It is not an allergic reaction and, though it may feel uncomfortable, will cause no harm.
A sting on the face may cause worrisome swelling but is not dangerous. A sting inside the mouth or throat, however, can be quite serious and needs to be treated promptly. In this case, I would advise calling 911 to receive prompt evaluation and emergency treatment.
Serious, life-threatening reactions to a sting may occur within minutes or several hours. Usually, the worse the reaction, the sooner it occurs. Those who have a serious sting reaction should seek consultation with a physician who can prescribe an injectable adrenaline kit, such as an Epipen. This shot can be self-administered if one is having a potentially life-threatening reaction to a sting.
In summary, here’s what to do when stung:
– Pull the stinger out as quickly as possible, if it remains in the flesh.
– Get out of the vicinity of stinging insects, as fast and as far as possible.
– Apply ice compress to the sting.
– Take Benadryl by mouth.
– Call 911 if you experience a swollen tongue or throat with difficulty swallowing; tight breathing or shortness of breath; a feeling of faintness; or severe hives