Wasp Stings & Treatments

How to treat a wasp sting

Being stung by a wasp is rare but when it does happen it can be uncomfortable; once you know how to treat the wasp sting, you can minimise this discomfort in no time at all.

** A note of caution – in this article we are looking at a mild reaction to a wasp sting. A sever reaction is known as anaphylaxis and is a reaction to a wasp sting that requires immediate emergency treatment. If the patient become unwell quickly and has difficulty breathing after being stung by a wasp, dial 999 immediately – do not delay **

Why is a wasp sting so painful?

For something so small, a wasp can deliver a serious sting that causes some people a significant level of discomfort. Very little in known about wasp venom, much less so that bee venom and so the reason why wasp stings are so painful remains a mystery. It is thought that the pain is caused by a mix of chemicals in the wasp venom being 'injected' into the skin tissue that causes the pain. Normally, these chemicals are processed in the blood stream and are processed much quicker.

Wasp sting reactions – 'local' skin reaction, allergic skin reaction and systematic reaction

In most cases people suffer a small local skin reaction which produces an intense, burning pain. This is quickly followed by a red patch and a small swelling. This usually disappears after a few hours.

In some cases, people can suffer a localised allergic skin reaction. In other words, they react to the wasp venom which causes a swelling at the sting site. This swelling becomes larger over time, gradually disappearing although this is over days rather than hours. The swelling can look alarming as some people find the swelling extends to the whole leg or arm for example, and can cause the skin to blister. Clearly, if you are in this level of discomfort seek further medical advice.

A systematic allergic reaction is rarer but more serious. This is when the immune system reacts strongly to the wasp venom. One or more of the following may occur;

  • Itchy skins across many parts of the body (not just the sting area)
  • Swelling of the face, in particular around the lips, tongue, throat, airway
  • A feeling of 'impending doom'
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Pulse may race
  • Blood pressure may lower, causing the person to faint
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing

A reaction as strong as this will usually appear within 10 minutes of a sting and has a range of severity from a mild, all over redness with some facial swelling to the more severe, life threatening situation of problems breathing, leading to collapse. This is anaphylaxis and is a medical emergency.
If you have been stung many times at the same time, you may also find that you feel very unwell and can cause serious illness. This is as a result of the high levels of wasp venom rather than an allergy.

Treatment for wasp stings

  1. First, check to see if the stinger is still in the skin.
    After you've been stung, you need to check if the 'stinger' is still in the skin. If it is then you extract it by using the edge of credit card (or similar type of card) drawn firmly across the skin. Or, if you have a pair of tweezers to hand you can use these. It is better to scrape the sting out is possible rather than squeeze or pull as this will unfortunately squeeze more wasp venom is not the surrounding skin tissue. Removing the stinger quickly is the key as this will lead to less irritation. However, you'll be pleased to know that on most occasions wasp stings are rarely left behind in the skin (unless you swatted it, as this can cause the stinger to break off).
  2. Treating the effects of the wasp venom
    Treating a wasp sting is about treating the effects of the wasp venom and this is fairly simple. You can help the immediate discomfort by applying a cold compress to the area but don't apply ice directly onto the skin as this can cause ice 'burn' on the skin. The cold will reduce blood flow to the area reducing the redness, swelling and discomfort. Leave this cold compress on for around 10 minutes. You can then re-apply the ice pack for another 5 to 10 minutes to the affected area if the discomfort still remains.
  3. Don't scratch it!
    If the area become irritated and itchy, try not to scratch (although easier said than done!). Scratching the area only makes matters worse as is damages the skin structure around the area where the sting entered. Scratching the skin can therefore leave it open to infection, making it harder for the skin to heal. Squeezing the area may bring temporary relief but will cause the wasp venom to 'leach' further into the surrounding skin tissue, adding to your discomfort.

Other useful tips are

  1. Calamine lotion
    Some people find the frequent application of calamine lotion beneficial; this lotion is a fairly benign skin lotion that can help with several itchy skin complaints.
  2. Over-the-counter medications
    They should be used with care especially if you have not used them previously; take as directed and only on the advice of a medical professional. Antihistamines are particularly useful can be found in two forms; a tablet works by releasing the chemicals within the blood stream that counteracts the irritating chemicals. A topical anti histamines is a cream that works on the affected skin. A well stocked pharmacy will have several topical antihistamine potions that may be of use and it is worth talking to your local pharmacist. Some people also find paracetamol and ibuprofen beneficial but again, only take on medical advice.
  3. Home remedies
    There are several 'home remedies' available to treat the discomfort left behind by a wasp sting. Baking soda mixed with a small amount of water to make a paste, and then applied to the sting area is purported to ease irritation. However, if after various treatments you still find the sting area to be sore, red or swollen then you should seek further medical advice and treatment.

How to avoid being stung

Of course, the best way to treat a wasp sting is to try and not be stung in the first place so here are a few tips to try and avoid this happening:

  1. If you find yourself swarmed by bees or wasps, try to move away slowly. Our immediate reaction is to wave wasps away. This makes the situation worse by 'exciting' wasps, making them more aggressive and likely to sting.
  2. Wear an insect repellent as these are effective with wasps too
  3. Do not interfere with a wasp nest. The wasps will immediately attack in defence.
  4. Some flowers and other shrubs are particular favourites of wasps so try and stay away from these.
  5. Be careful eating outside, especially sweet sugary things, including liquids. These sugary items can attract wasps.
  6. Another suggestion is to avoid wearing perfume and other strong scents as some people believe that wasps are attracted to them.
  7. If you working in an area that you can see many wasps then sensible precautions would be long sleeves, trousers etc. to keep as much skin as possible covered thereby minimising chances of being stung.
  8. And finally, keep an eye out for nests in the garden and in eaves of houses. If you notice an increase in wasps numbers, more than usual it may be because there is a nest close by. If you do find one, call a reputable pest control company.

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