Insect stings are uncomfortable and can often be distressing particularly if suffering from several stings.
However, the risks of being stung can be managed by destroying wasp nests in or near the home and taking some basic precautions when outdoors.
Some people are much more sensitive to insect stings than others, although young children tend to be particularly sensitive.
However, the key group at risk are the three percent of the population who are allergic to the poison in stings. An allergy to insect stings can develop at any time, even if they have not reacted to a previous sting.
Call an ambulance immediately if someone has a severe reaction to an insect sting.
Symptoms may include fainting, dizziness, nausea or difficulty in breathing or swallowing.
Insect stings should not be confused with insect bites.
An insect uses its sting as a form of defence when it perceives a threat either to itself or its colony. It stings by injecting poison into or under the skin. The effect is immediate and results in a sharp, burning sensation.
While a sting is used as a form of defence, insects bite to draw blood. To give the insect time to feed, insect bites have evolved so that the pain is not as sharp as a sting (although the bite of a horse fly is very painful).
The most common insects that sting are wasps (including hornets) or bees. Wasps are the most aggressive and may sting with little provocation.
Bees are much less likely to sting, most commonly stinging when they are stood or sat on. The key sign of a bee sting is that it leaves its stinger lodged inside the skin and a venomous sac will continue to pump poison for more than a minute.
In contrast, the only sign of a wasp or hornet sting is likely to be a small puncture hole.
Once stung by a wasp or bee, the area around the sting will quickly redden and a raised weal (fluid under the skin) will form. The weal will reduce after a few hours, but it may remain itchy for more than a day.
Contrary to popular myth, the wasp sting is not alkaline and the bee sting is only weakly acidic. The chemistry of a sting is much more complex and so the traditional cures of bathing a wasp sting in vinegar or a bee sting in baking soda will provide only limited relief. However, there are practical steps that can be taken.
If stung by a bee, the pain will be reduced significantly if the stinger is removed promptly. This should be done carefully using sharp fingernails, tweezers or a knife – however, take great care not to squeeze the sting sac as this will inject more poison into the wound.
Wash the wound with soap and water and then reduce swelling by bathing in cold water or by covering it with a cold compress such as ice in a cloth (but never hold ice directly on the skin).
To relieve itching, apply an anti-histamine cream for bites and stings or take an oral anti-histamine tablet (a “hayfever tablet”).
Calamine lotion can also be applied to cool the wound and ease the itch. If the itching is severe, consult your pharmacist about steroid creams.
For those with a moderate allergy to stings, there may be more general swelling around the wound. Consult your doctor if the swelling is severe or persistent.
Call an ambulance immediately if any of the following symptoms are seen within 30 minutes of a sting:
Remember, allergies to stings can develop at any time.
Those stung on two or more occasions in previous years are at higher risk from developing an allergy.
Another group at high risk are those who suffer from other allergies (such as to pollen or pets).
People who are sensitive to insect stings should take care to minimise the risk of being stung, but there are practical steps that we can all take.
To avoid being stung when outdoors:
Never try to swat wasps or bees. This will increase the likelihood of being stung and may excite a swarm.
Do not wave your arms and try not to panic as this will also excite the insect. If you enter an area with many stinging insects, walk calmly and slowly away.
A wasp trapped indoors can be dealt with using a Wasp & Fly Killer spray.
However, bees are beneficial to the environment and should not be killed whenever it is safe and practical.
If there are high numbers of wasps or bees in your home or garden, it is likely there is a nest nearby.
It is important to deal with nests as early as possible – wasps become more aggressive in late summer and it is much safer to deal with them earlier in the year.
Find out more in our wasps and bees section or call us for more advice on 1300 886 911.