An insect sting should be treated immediately, not only to relieve pain, redness and swelling, but also to prevent symptoms from becoming more severe.
The first action to take is to move away from the area where the sting was experienced to avoid being stung again.
With a Honey Bee sting, the next action to take is scraping the stinger out of the wound by scraping sideways with a knife blade or finger nail. The objective is to pull the stinger out of the wound without crushing the poison sac which would only inject more venom into the wound.
Apply a cloth soaked in cool water to the area of the wound to reduce swelling and reduce the chance of the venom spreading. Do not scratch, rub or massage the area of the sting as this may spread the venom.
Take an antihistamine to reduce the body’s allergic reaction to the sting. A good choice is diphenhydramine hydrochloride. This drug may cause drowsiness, so avoid activities like driving, where failure to be alert could be dangerous.
Apply a soothing lotion (calamine, baking soda, corticosteroid) to the skin in the area of the bite to reduce swelling and itchiness.
If the person who has been stung exhibits any of the signs of anaphylactic shock (wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or swallowing, hives), seek medical help immediately. First aid measures include the use of a rescue inhaler and injection of adrenalin with an epi-pen. Note that both rescue inhalers and epi-pens are usually available by prescription only.
Allergic Reaction to Bee and Wasp Stings
Because of the venom that is injected, most people experience pain, redness and some local swelling in response to a sting from one of the five common types of stingers. This reaction may be more intense if the sting is in the area of the eyes, nose or mouth.
Some people, however, with an overly sensitive immune system, can develop a much more dangerous response. Proteins in the venom stimulate the production of antibodies in the blood of the victim. Each additional sting produces ever increasing amounts of antibodies. The individual is said to have developed an allergy to the venom and demonstrates an allergic response to being stung. The swelling and redness resulting from the sting extend to a larger section of the body (beyond a couple of inches away from the site of the sting).
When the antibody level in a sensitive person is high enough, it reacts to a new injection of venom by attaching to the foreign protein. This process causes mast cells in the blood to rupture releasing histamines and other compounds into the blood. The histamines cause blood vessels to dilate, releasing fluid into tissues and causing tissues to swell. The victim may develop hives over large areas of the body. When tissue swelling occurs in the parts of the respiratory system, breathing becomes labored and in extreme cases, death may result. This extreme and life-threatening response to an insect sting is called anaphylactic shock.
What Sting Hurts the Most?
All insect stings are painful in order to serve as an effective self-defense mechanism. Depending on the type and quantity of venom injected there is considerable variation in the intensity of the pain following a sting. Entomologist Justin O. Smith has studied the relative pain caused by the stings of different wasps and bees. The list below is modified from Schmidt’s sting pain index and the sting pain scale of Christopher Starr.
Pain Level of Common Wasp and Bee Stings
(on a scale from 1 to 10)
All of these common stingers, except for the Honey Bee, have a smooth-shafted stinger and can sting repeatedly. After being stung, most areas will require at least minor first aid.
Honey Bees have a barbed stinger that becomes firmly embedded in the skin of mammals. As a result, when the Honey Bee is removed from the site of the sting, its stinger pulls away from the bee’s abdomen dragging the poison gland out with it. The bee dies from this traumatic rupturing of its abdomen, but muscles in the poison gland continue to contract, pumping additional venom into the wound.
Although all of the common stingers will sting to defend the colony, some are more aggressive than others when away from their nests. The most likely to sting when away from the colony are the Yellowjacket Wasp and Bald-faced Hornet, and the least likely are the Bumble Bee and Honey Bee.