An encounter with a stinging insect is not a pleasant experience. In the United States, the main stinging insects are bees, hornets, yellow jackets, wasps and fire ants.
A normal reaction to an insect sting would be pain, redness, swelling and itching, mostly contained to the spot where you were stung. Multiple insect stings — for example, from disturbing a hive or nest — might cause a more serious reaction because a great deal more venom gets into the body.
A small percentage of people who get stung have allergic reactions, which can occasionally be severe or life-threatening. Allergic reactions may begin right after the sting or they may come on up to several hours later. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
- swelling, itching and hives on the body other than at the site of the sting
- abdominal pain
- swelling in the face or in and around the mouth
- tightness in the chest
- difficulty swallowing
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure (called anaphylactic shock)
The above symptoms, following an insect sting, require immediate medical attention, as does a sting inside the mouth or nose. People who have had a previous severe allergic reaction should carry an epinephrine syringe to help stop the reaction. Even after injecting the epinephrine, they should get to a doctor or hospital immediately.
Venom immunotherapy is available for those who cannot use epinephrine and for others allergic to insect stings. Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is highly effective for insect venom. Talk with your doctor about whether it is right for you.
Home Treatment for Insect Stings
- Bees leave stingers behind. Do not pull the stinger out. Remove it by scraping gently with a fingernail or the side of a credit card.
- Wash the area with soap and water.
- Make a paste of unseasoned meat tenderizer and water and apply it to the sting as soon as possible. Many people find this reduces the reaction. If you do not have unseasoned meat tenderizer, try baking soda or activated charcoal.
- Apply a cold pack to the sting.
- Take pain medications as needed.
- Topical creams and lotions, such as Calamine, benzocaine or hydrocortizone, may help ease the itching.
- Some people take non-prescription antihistamines. If you take them, remember they can make you drowsy.