Wasp/Yellowjacket Stings

The Sting

When a bee or wasp stings, it uses its stinger to inject a venomous fluid under the skin.  Most people who are stung will experience pain, swelling, itching and or redness at the sting site.  This is a good reason to rid your home of large numbers of wasps or nearby nests.  In a very small percentage of people ( 1 or 2 in 1,000 ) a sting from a bee or wasp can be much more serious, even life threatening.  If a person has a severe allergic reaction to a sting, the sting may develope into a serious health threat or may even be fatal.  An example of this would be anaphylactic shock.

The honeybee has a barbed stinger which detaches from her body when she stings.  Attached to the stinger is a venom sac that will continue to pump venom into your skin for 2 to 3 minutes.  Because of this, it is important to remove the stinger as quickly as possible.  A sideways scraping motion with a fingernail, credit card or even car key will remove the stinger without squeezing the venom sac, which would pump more venom into the victim.  You can read more about honeybees and africanized honeybees on our AHB page.  Unlike honeybees, wasps, yellowjackets and hornets can deliver multiple stings through a lance-like stinger.  Their stinger does not pull out of their body.  These insects should be quickly brushed off the skin so that they do not continue to deliver painful stings.  Everyone should leave the area where wasps are attacking, then formulate a plan to remove them if necessary. 

As a wasp, yellow jacket or bee stings, an alarm pheromone is released in the venom signaling nearby coworkers to deliver stings to the same area on your body.  Reactions to stings vary depending on the number of stings delivered and your body’s reaction to the venom in the sting.  Normal reactions are characterized by a painful, reddened swollen area that may also itch, but dissipates within 10-60 minutes.  More serious local reactions last for days.  The pain, swelling and itching will be more intense in the area directly surrounding the sting site.  The most serious reaction is a systemic allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.  This type of reaction generally occurs rapidly after the sting and affects the whole body.  A person may feel dizzy, nauseated and weak, experience stomach cramps and diarrhea.  Also coughing, itching around the eyes, hives, wheezing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, vomiting, low blood pressure, shock, unconsciousness, darkened skin and death can occur in highly sensitive people.  This can all occur in 5 – 30 minutes.  Each time a person has a systemic reaction to a sting, the severity will increase in almost every circumstance.  People that know they are extremely allergic to insect stings and bites carry an emergency bee kit with them.  Diagnostic testing is recommended for individuals who have experienced systemic reactions to insect stings.  If you experience a systemic reaction, even with mild symptoms, you should see your physician.

Desensitization programs have shown success in reducing reactions to insect stings.  A series of shots has to be administered over several years to reduce venom sensitivity.  Doctors who are allergy specialists determine the frequency for administering the shots.  This process can be an expensive one starting at about $1000 for the first year and half of that thereafter.  Shots will be stopped after 3-5 years when allergy testing comes up negative.

The Treatment

Sting sites should be treated with an antiseptic to stop any possible infection.  Cool compresses can help relieve pain and swelling.  Other common home remedies include applying cigarette tobacco, crushed aspirin, or meat tenderizer.  These methods are not necessarily endorsed, just recognized.  If itching becomes a problem, an anti-itch cream will help.  Scratching a sting can open up the skin and allow a secondary infection to get started.  If you experience multiple stings or know that you have had systemic or more severe reactions to stings, watch for more serious signs like difficulty in breathing, dizziness, nausea or hives.  These symptoms may require immediate medical attention.

The Removal

In most hardware / home improvement stores and garden centers wasp traps are available.  If you’ve got hornets or yellowjackets these traps work great.  A pheromone is used as bait to lure the insects inside, where they cannot escape.  If a large nest is nearby, your trap may be very effective.  This does not guarantee that you will eradicate the nest, but may reduce your chances of experiencing a sting.  Traps should be placed away from homes and where people will be active.  You can build a DIY trap and bait it with a non pesticide, non pheromone bait.  It’s located here…Wasp Traps

Do not try to destroy a yellowjacket’s or hornet’s nest with a pesticide spray.  These are enclosed nests found in the ground, hanging from a tree or eave and sometimes found in walls.  Have you heard the phrase “stirring up a hornets nest”?  The response you will get will be painful and extremely dangerous.  Also, if the nest is inside a wall of a living space, the dead insects leftover will cause a foul smell.  Leave this job to a professional!

If you have paper wasps, there’s some good news and some bad news.  First the bad news.  No effective lure has been developed for paper wasps. So don’t go and buy the trap described earlier at your hardware store.  The only way to remove paper wasps is by direct chemical treatment.  This you can do yourself.  Be sure to use caution and common sense.  Wasps must directly contact an appropriate pesticide or return to a pesticide soaked nest.  You can purchase a quick knockdown, aerosol spray for this.  Locating the nest is not always easy.  The nest may be a fair distance from where you see wasp activity.  If you know where the nest is, wait until after dark to treat the nest.  It’s a good idea to carry a flashlight.  After dark the wasps will be much less likely to fly or direct a defensive response at you.  Sometimes a paper wasp will build its nest in the small voids of a tile roof or even build in an attic.  These situations present a more difficult removal procedure and may require professional help.

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