Wasp stings. What you should know

Summer is just around the corner and we all know what that means: outdoor activities, heat, humidity and encounters with pesky bugs. And with the latter comes the inevitable stings.

Almost everyone has been stung by a wasp, a painful and unforgettable experience. And while the pain is usually the worst, for some particularly sensitive people wasp stings can be life-threatening.

But if you think wasps sting because they are mean and aggressive, you’re wrong. If you want to understand the purpose of their sting, along with a lot of additional information, you’ll find everything you should know about wasp stings in this article.

How do wasps sting?

Wasps, like bees and ants, are part of the scientific order Hymenoptera, of which there are hundreds of thousands of different species. Like bees, wasps are capable of injecting small amounts of venom along with their sting.

It is this venom that causes most of the pain and swelling at the site of the sting. But unlike bees, wasp stings are smooth, so they do not stick to the skin. By keeping its stinger, the wasp does not die after stinging, so it can sting several times.

Female wasps are the only wasps that can sting, because the stinger is located at the end of the ovipositor, the part of the body that allows the wasp to lay eggs. This stinger is used both for defence and to paralyse prey.

Symptoms of a wasp sting

Wasp stings can cause anything from painful discomfort to a violent allergic reaction, depending on the person. Most people who are not allergic will show only mild symptoms after a wasp sting.

Normal local symptoms

A raised area is likely to appear around the sting site. A small mark may be visible in the centre of this area, where the stinger has pierced the skin.

Initial sensations may include sharp pain or burning at the sting site. There may also be redness, swelling and itching. The pain and swelling will begin to subside within a few hours after the sting.

Significant local symptoms

People who have significant local reactions may be allergic to wasp stings. Fortunately, they do not experience life-threatening symptoms such as anaphylactic shock.

These major symptoms include redness and swelling over larger areas than a normal sting. Nausea and vomiting may also occur. Most of the time these symptoms subside on their own within a week.

The recommendation is to inform your doctor if you have a significant local reaction after a wasp sting.

Anaphylactic shock after a wasp sting

Anaphylaxis is a rapid, severe allergic reaction that occurs in response to wasp venom. Most people go into anaphylactic shock very quickly after a wasp sting.

This is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment, so seek immediate emergency care to treat anaphylaxis. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to wasp stings include:

  • Severe swelling of the face, lips or throat.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Hives on areas of the body away from the sting.
  • lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting.
  • drop in blood pressure
  • weak or rapid pulse
  • stomach cramps

If you have a history of anaphylaxis, it is very important to carry a wasp sting kit. These kits contain epinephrine injections (EpiPen) that you can give yourself after a sting.

Epinephrine has several effects that help stabilise blood pressure, increase heart rate and strength, and help breathing return to normal.

Dolichovespula sylvestris

What to do if you get stung by a wasp

Fortunately, there are many home remedies and treatments you can follow to relieve the pain of a wasp sting.

Wash the area

Wash the affected area with soap and water. This will cleanse the wound of bacteria and other microorganisms, as well as remove venom residue that can increase irritation and pain.

Apply a cold compress

Wrap a cloth around an ice pack or cold pack. Apply this compress to the sting site for an hour, intermittently. This will help reduce swelling and pain from the wasp sting.

Take an anti-inflammatory medication

To reduce inflammation, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen. This will help reduce the pain of the wasp sting and also reduce swelling at the site of the sting.

Apply local remedies

To relieve itching, apply an antihistamine, corticosteroid or calamine cream to the entire red and swollen area. This will also help relieve the pain of the wasp sting.

Why do wasps sting?

The main reason wasps sting humans is because they feel threatened. When a wasp stings us, it is a defence mechanism, although the same sting is used by the wasp to catch its prey. There are two main reasons why you might be stung by a wasp.

Wasps sting to protect their nest

Like most animals, if a female wasp senses that her home is being attacked or threatened, she will protect the wasp nest with the only defence mechanism she has – her stinger!

Wasps sting when they feel threatened

Wasps may sting if they feel threatened. Constantly flailing your arms, or any tool, when trying to get rid of a wasp can cause the wasp to become very upset and sting.

How can you prevent future wasp stings?

Wasps are attracted to our food and drink, so covering them up minimises the chance of encountering a wasp. Staying away from bins, where wasps forage for food, can also prevent some wasp encounters.

Wasps look for places such as eaves or gutters to build their nests, and they can do so very quickly, and more discreetly than bees. So check frequently for wasp nests, especially if you have young children.

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