Although uncommon, being stung by a wasp is sore and uncomfortable. Knowing how to treat it can reduce the effects dramatically.
It is important to note that here we look at treating ordinary an wasp sting reaction. A serious allergic reaction, known as an anaphylactic shock demands immediate medical emergency attention. If symptoms of a sting include difficulty breathing and faintness, then it is vital to call 999 straight away.
Why is a wasp sting so painful?
Wasp stings are notoriously painful, but very little is actually known about their venom when compared to bee venom. The reason their stings are so painful remains something of a mystery. Common theory suggests that the mixture of chemicals in a wasp sting, as much as the venom, triggers the pain when penetrating the skin.
Wasp sting reactions – ‘local’ skin reaction, allergic skin reaction and systematic reaction
The standard sting delivers a small local skin reaction, giving the victim a short lived burning pain, followed by swelling and a red mark which disappears after a few hours.
Some people may suffer from a local allergic skin reaction, which produces a much larger swelling than normal, taking days to disappear. Sometimes the swelling can rise to alarming levels, covering much of the arm or leg and medical advice can help ease the symptoms.
In the most severe cases a bodily allergic reaction can result, triggering the immune system. Symptoms of this include:
Full body itching, beyond the initial sting area
Facial swelling around the mouth, throat and tongue.
Panic and intense fear
Cramps, spasms or pain in the abdominal area
Low blood pressure leading to dizziness and fainting
Laboured breathing and wheezing
A strong reaction like this will manifest within 10 minutes from the initial sting, with various degrees of severity. Regardless, it is crucial to seek immediate medical help to address the anaphylactic shock.
Repeated stings can also generate the same symptoms due to the high levels of venom in the body.
Treatment for wasp stings
- First, check to see if the stinger is still in the skin.
The first thing to look for is if the stinger is still lodged in the skin. Drawing the edge of a credit card firmly over the skin will bring it out, as will tweezers, but scraping the sting out is preferable than squeezing or pulling on it, which will release more venom. Responding quickly will prevent more venom secretion and thus less irritation, but fortunately stings rarely remain caught in the skin (the chances go up if you swat it, causing the sting to break off)
- Treating the effects of the wasp venom
There are some simple steps for addressing the effects of wasp venom. Applying a cold compress alleviates the burning (direct ice can in fact aggravate the pain). The cold also reduces the blood flow in area which reduces the swelling and pain. Keep the cold compress on the area for 10 minutes, followed by an ice pack for a further 5 to 10 minutes.
- Don’t scratch it!
The key tip is not scratching the stung area, which can damage the skin further making it open to infection and slower to heal. Squeezing the sting will spread the venom around the skin tissue, increasing the pain.
Other useful tips are
- Calamine lotion
Calamine lotion is reportedly soothing for stings, usually applied for issues of itchy skin.
- Over-the-counter products
These require more care in application due to increased strength, and should only be used following the instructions or medical advice. Pill form and topical cream antihistamines are effective in counteracting the sting’s chemical irritation, as well as ibuprofen and paracetamol for reducing the pain and swelling. Pharmacies will contain several kinds of antihistamines, so seek advice on which is best for wasp stings.
- Home remedies
Domestic or ‘DIY’ solutions are available to help alleviate the pain of a sting, particularly baking soda mixed with a little water, creating a paste that eases irritation when applied to the sting area. It is best to seek medical advice if the home remedies do not work, rather than persisting.
How to avoid being stung
Prevention is always better than treatment, and there are a few ways you can avoid being stung:
- When surrounded by bee swarms or large numbers of wasps, the best thing to do is move away slowly. Attempting to swat or wave off the insects will only excite them into more aggressive behaviour.
- Insect repellants work on wasps too.
- Do not engage a wasp’s nest as they will attack to defend it.
- Know which flowers and shrubs the wasps favour, and stay away from them.
- Sugary items, such as fizzy drinks, are very attractive to wasps, so be cautious with them outside.
- Some people have suggested perfume and strong scents are also alluring for wasps.
- Keeping skin covered in an area with many wasps is also advised.
- Lastly, stay vigilant for wasp nest’s in the garden and around the roof. Large numbers of wasps in your home’s vicinity makes it likely that there is a nest nearby.