When You Are Stung
If you are stung, first check to see if the culprit was a yellowjacket or a honeybee. A honeybee’s stinger is barbed at the tip and remains lodged in the skin to allow the attached poison gland to inject more venom into the wound. Do not rub or squeeze the wound if a little brown poison gland is sticking up, as this only pumps out more venom. A honeybee can sting only once because its body is torn apart and it dies.
A yellowjacket’s stinger is not barbed, so it can sting repeatedly. In most people a sting causes immediate pain at the site, rapidly developing localized reddening, swelling, and itching. Treat stings immediately. While a single sting may be life threatening to allergic people, it is rarely serious for others. However, the venom from multiple stings from a disturbed colony can poison even people who are not allergic. Yellowjacket stings cause about 50 deaths a year.
Treating a Sting
Gently remove the stinger by scraping the skin in the opposite direction of its entry with a long fingernail, a pocket knife blade, car key, coin or other thin, flat tool.
Wash the area around the sting with soap and water and apply ice or a cold towel to reduce swelling.
Reduce the itch with an over-the-counter sting swab, a thick paste of baking soda, Epsom salts, ammonia or meat tenderizer, which contains enzymes that help neutralize wasp venom. If nothing else is handy, apply a bit of mud. An oral antihistamine such as Benadryl can also reduce itching. Take an aspirin or acetaminophen product to ease the pain.
If Your Reaction Is Severe
Some people are allergic to yellowjacket stings. An allergic reaction, which can lead to anaphylactic shock, can be fatal if untreated. Symptoms usually occur after only 10 to 20 minutes but may appear up to 20 hours later. Most deaths from stings are caused by extreme allergic reactions, which are actually quite rare. For even a moderate allergic reaction, see a doctor. You may be acquiring increased sensitivity to stings, and treatment by an allergist may be needed.
Get emergency medical aid immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
Wheezing and tightness in the throat
Widespread swelling in arms or legs
Dizziness or faintness
Nausea and vomiting
Please note that the medical advice offered here is not intended to replace professional medical care. The authors and publisher disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects resulting directly or indirectly from the suggested procedures, from any undetected errors, or from the reader’s misunderstanding of the text.