Summertime fun can mean bug bites and stings. But some stings can be dangerous. Bee, wasp, yellow jacket, hornet, or fire ant stings most often trigger allergic reactions. However, most people are not allergic to insect stings but may mistake a normal sting reaction for an allergic reaction. Know the difference and prevent any unnecessary worry and visits to the doctor.
The severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person:
A normal reaction will result in pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site.
A large local reaction will result in swelling that extends beyond the sting site. For example, a person stung on the ankle may have swelling of the entire leg. While it often looks alarming, it is generally no more serious than a normal reaction.
The most serious reaction is an allergic one, which requires immediate medical attention. A few people can have life-threatening symptoms, even if they've never had an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Half of all people who die of bee sting anaphylaxis did not know that they had an allergy.
Here are the most dangerous symptoms to watch for:
- Itching, hives, or swelling over a large part of your body, as opposed to right where the sting is
- Face, throat or tongue starts to swell
- Trouble breathing
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea or diarrhea
If you have these symptoms, use an Auvi-Q, Twinject or Epi-Pen (epinephrine shot) if you carry them with you (always carry two). Then call 911 immediately. You still need to go to the hospital, even if the shot appeared to work.
If you get stung, try to remove the stinger immediately. The stinger contains venom which continues to be released for several seconds after a sting. Scrape a fingernail across the stinger to help remove it from the skin. Clean the area with soap and water. Treatment such as a cold compress is usually sufficient for reactions at the sting site. For pain, take aspirin or acetaminophen. Diphenhydramine, like Benadryl, or another nonprescription antihistamine may be helpful if the sting is itchy. An over-the-counter steroid cream can also be used.
Reduce the chances of being stung by avoiding brightly colored, white, or pastel clothing. Don't use cosmetics or perfume with floral scents. Food odors attract insects, especially yellow jackets, so be alert when you are cooking or eating outdoors.