Wasp Stings Are Painful To All, Dangerous To Some

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Wasp stings are something we would all like to avoid, although there is a good chance everyone will experience at least one at some time in their life. There are many types of wasps, and they come in many different sizes. Most wasps are beneficial, preying on other insects, or on spiders, and generally leaving people alone.

Three Bad Guys

Of all the different types of wasps, wasp stings are most apt to occur when coming into contact with one of three different types. These are the paper wasp, the yellow jacket and the bald-faced hornet. The paper wasp is in some ways more fierce-looking than either the yellow jacket or the hornet. In fact, when we think of the word wasp, it’s the paper wasp that more often than not comes to mind. It looks for all the world like a stinging machine, but in truth, it is the least aggressive of the three types, and the venom from its sting is not quite as toxic. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep a respectful distance from a paper wasp, but it will more than likely not bother you if you don’t bother it. Yellowjackets and hornets are, on the other hand, far less sociable.

parts of a wasp

Wasp stings often occur when we’re in close proximity to a nest, or by accident or design, disturb the nest. Forget about batting down a large next with a long stick, figuring you can run faster than a wasp can fly. You can’t, and the wasps will be irritated, to say the least. Yellowjackets can pose quite a problem in this respect, as they sometimes nest in a hole in the ground, a crevice in a rock, or a rotten tree stump, and it’s easy to disturb their nest without even realizing it until you find yourself in the middle of a swarm. Only female wasps sting by the way but don’t trust your luck to happen upon a nest holding primarily males. In almost all instances the males have long died off, and you’ll find only females in a nest. They all can sting, and they all can sting more than once.

Wasp Stings And Bee Stings

We usually lump wasp stings into the general category of bee stings. One difference is that when you’re stung by a honey bee, the stinger is left behind, and the bee will die, never to bother you again. Bumblebees can sting more than once, but are generally quite mellow fellows, unless you actually sit one, or grab one by mistake. Wasps can sting more than once, and their venom is generally more potent than that of the bee. A person allergic to the venom, however, can become quite sick, regardless of whether a bee or wasp is the culprit. The treatments described here for wasp stings applies equally well to bee stings.

A close of of a stinger of a wasp
The stinger of a wasp

The best way to avoid wasp stings is obviously to keep at a distance from the wasp. This isn’t always possible, or even practical, but should you find yourself in the company of several flying wasps, it would be best to move away from the area when possible. The worst thing to do is to swat at a wasp. You may kill it, you may drive it away, or it may come after you. If you disturb a nest, exit the area as quickly as possible, covering your head, and protecting your face if you can. You can avoid problems sometimes by not wearing perfume or cologne when working out of doors. Odours often attract insects, and some even irritate them. Bright coloured clothing can also attract bees and wasps, and if you are sweating, a wasp may land on you for a drink of water and a bit of salt. If you leave it alone, it will probably leave of its own accord. But if you find you are being a magnet for thirsty wasps, it’s best to move away. If an occasional wasp visits you while working in your garden, an application of insect repellent will usually keep them at a safe distance.

Local Reactions To Wasp Stings

 The reactions or symptoms you can get from wasp stings fall within one of two categories. The first, and most common, is a local reaction. The only place you will experience discomfort is in the part of the body where the sting occurred. Besides immediate pain, which can vary from a pinprick to something that really hurts, you’ll probably experience some redness and swelling, and later, some itching may occur. All of this happens right at the place where the sting occurred. If the swelling and redness begin to cover a larger area, often after a day or two, it’s possible that an infection has occurred at the location of the sting. This is something that is rather uncommon but can happen.

swollen lip from a wasp sting
A swollen upper lip caused by a wasp or bee sting

Multiple Wasp Stings

Most people have only a local reaction to a wasp sting and are in no particular danger unless they are a victim of multiple stings. A healthy adult can survive quite a number of stings, although may feel very uncomfortable in the event something like that happens. If you should incur more than a dozen or so wasp stings at one time it would be highly advisable to get immediate medical attention if possible, since you may experience a delayed reaction which could be quite serious. Small children and elderly people, especially those with cardiovascular problems, are much more at risk of a serious reaction, or even death, from multiple stings

Most people, who have never been stung by a wasp, have no idea whether or not they are among the very small percentage of people who will suffer an allergic reaction. If you know that you are allergic to wasp stings, you’ll know that quick action on your part may be needed, whether you’re the victim of a single sting or multiple stings. If you are allergic, you can expect to experience symptoms affecting other parts of your body, in addition to whatever the local reaction may be. These symptoms can include the onset of hives or a rash, covering much of the body. More serious symptoms include difficulty in breathing or swallowing, nausea or vomiting, and chest pain. Any of these symptoms mean immediate medical attention is required. A lowering of blood pressure can occur, which can be fatal. Even if you find yourself not feeling terrible, but not feeling particularly well either, you should seek medical advice. If you have any of these symptoms, get someone else to drive you to a doctor or to the hospital, especially if you are feeling faint at all. Trying to drive yourself could be dangerous to you and to others on the road.

Treatment Of Wasp Stings

If you only suffer a local reaction, treatment can vary from doing nothing to an application of ice or a cold compress. It’s also advisable to wash the area with soap and apply a topical antibiotic to reduce the possibility of infection.  Motrin or Tylenol can be helpful in dealing with the pain, and should itching occur an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, can help. If you are suffering from an allergic reaction, you should, of course, seek medical help, but in the meantime, taking an antihistamine may be helpful. If you do receive medical attention, you may get injections of steroids, epinephrine, and additional antihistamines. In more severe cases you could find yourself in intensive care, especially if you are having difficulty in breathing. Even after you’ve passed through the critical stage, you can expect to be placed under observation for a time.


If you enjoy the outdoors and know you are allergic to wasp stings, it would pay to have a bee sting or wasp sting kit at your disposal, either in your home or in your backpack. You can get one of these with a prescription from your doctor. This would enable you to give yourself immediate medical attention, which could hold you over until professional help is available, and could be a lifesaver.

wasp nest on fence for removal
An empty wasp nest attached to a fence.

Dealing With A Wasp's Nest

Finally, if you spot a wasp nest on your property, wasp killer spray is very effective. Some of these sprays are effective to a distance of 20 feet or even more. You’ll want to spray into the entrance of the nest, from as far away as you can. Don’t stand under the nest; a dropping wasp may nail you as its final act. You’ll have better luck in the evening or early morning and may need to spray a nest more than once. For very large nests, or those that are hard to get at, getting a professional exterminator to do the job would be advisable. If it is late in the year when you discover a nest, you might consider just leaving it alone, especially if you don’t feel wasp stings will be a problem and just let the cold weather take care of the insects.

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