Bee, Wasp and Hornet Stings
|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.
In most people, a yellowjacket sting produces an immediate pain at the site
of the sting. There will be localized reddening, swelling, and itching. Ice
or analgesic creams often relieve the symptoms.
IF YOU ARE STUNG
1. Apply cold water or ice in a wet cloth
2. Lie down
3. Lower the stung arm or leg
4. Do not drink alcohol
Some people experience an allergic reaction to yellowjacket venom.
Allergic (anaphylactic) shock can be fatal if untreated. Symptoms usually
occur 10-20 minutes after a sting but may appear up to 20 hours later. If
you experience any of the following symptoms after being stung, obtain
medical aid immediately.
SYMPTOMS OF ALLERGIC REACTIONS
WHAT TO DO
- Widespread swelling of limb
- Painful joints
- Lie down; victim should not be moved
- Lower the stung arm or leg
- Apply ice
- Do not drink alcohol
- Apply a wide cloth tourniquet between sting and the heart (should be
able to place 2 fingers under bands); release after 5 minutes
- Get medical aid
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
Avoiding a stinging incident
Stay away from honey bee colonies.
Because honey bees nest in such a wide variety of locations, be alert
for groups of flying bees entering or leaving an entrance or opening.
Listen for buzzing sounds. Be especially alert when climbing, because
honey bees often nest under rocks or within crevices within rocks. Don't
put your hands where you can't see them.
If you find a colony of bees, leave them alone and keep others away.
Do not shoot, throw rocks at, try to burn or otherwise disturb the bees.
If the colony is near a trail or near areas frequently used by humans,
notify your local office of the Parks Department, Forest Service, Game
and Fish Department, even if the bees appear to be docile. Honey bee
colonies vary in behavior over time, especially with changes in age and
season. Small colonies are less likely to be defensive than large
colonies, so you may pass the same colony for weeks, and then one day
provoke them unexpectedly.
Wear appropriate clothing.
When hiking in the wilderness, wear light-colored clothing, including
socks. Avoid wearing leather clothing. When they defend their nests,
Honey bees target objects that resemble their natural predators (such as
bears and skunks), so they tend to go after dark, leathery or furry
objects. Keep in mind that bees see the color red as black, so
fluorescent orange is a better clothing choice when hunting.
Avoid wearing scents of any sort when hiking or working outside.
Africanized honey bees communicate to one another using scents and tend
to be quite sensitive to odors. Avoid strongly scented shampoo, soaps,
perfumes, heavily scented gum, etc. If riding, avoid using fly control
products on your horse with a "lemony" or citrus odor. Such scents are
also known to provoke or attract honey bees.
Be particularly careful when using any machinery that produces sound
vibrations or loud noises.
Bees are alarmed by the vibration and/or loud noises produced by
equipment such as chain saws, weed eaters, lawn mowers, tractors or
electric generators. Honey bees may also be disturbed by strong smells,
such as the odor of freshly cut grass. Again, check your environment
before you begin operating noisy equipment.
When hiking it is best to keep your dog on a leash or under close
control. A large animal bounding through the brush is likely to disturb
a colony and be attacked. When the animal returns to its master, it will
bring the attacking bees with it. At home, be careful not to tie or pen
animals near honey bee hives. The animals receive numerous stings
because they can't escape the bees. If your animals or pets are being
stung, try to release them without endangering yourself.