are common, especially during the warmer months when people are outside for longer
periods of time. Wasp stings can be uncomfortable, but most people recover
quickly and without complications.
Wasps, like bees and hornets, are equipped with a stinger as
a means of self-defense. A wasp’s stinger contains venom (poisonous substance) that’s
transmitted to humans during a sting. While a bee can only sting once because its
stinger becomes stuck in the skin of its victim, a wasp can sting more than
once during an attack. Wasp stingers remain intact.
However, even without a lodged stinger, wasp venom can cause
significant pain and irritation.
Symptoms of a wasp sting
The majority of people without sting allergies will show
only minor symptoms during and after a wasp sting. The initial sensations can
include sharp pain or burning at the sting site. Redness, swelling, and itching
can occur as well.
Normal local reactions
You’re likely to develop a raised welt around the sting
site. A tiny white mark may be visible in the middle of the welt where the
stinger punctured your skin. Usually, the pain and swelling recedes within several
hours of being stung.
Large local reactions
“Large local reactions” is a term used to describe more
pronounced symptoms associated with a wasp or bee sting. People who have large
local reactions may be allergic to wasp stings, but don’t experience
life-threatening symptoms, such as anaphylactic shock. Large local reactions to
wasp stings include extreme redness and swelling that increase for two or three
days after the sting.
Most of the time, large local reactions subside on their own
over the course of a week or so. Let your doctor know if you have a large local
reaction after a wasp sting. They may direct you to take an over-the-counter
antihistamine medication (such as Benadryl) to reduce your discomfort.
Having a large local reaction after a wasp sting one time
doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll react to future stings in the same way. You
could have one strong reaction and never show the same symptoms again. On the
other hand, a large local reaction could be the way your body routinely
responds to wasp stings. Try to avoid being stung to prevent these
Anaphylaxis following a wasp sting
The most severe allergic reactions to wasp stings are
referred to as “anaphylaxis.” Anaphylaxis
occurs when your body goes into shock in response to the wasp venom. Most
people who go into shock after a wasp sting do so very quickly. It’s important
to seek immediate emergency care to treat anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to wasp stings
- severe swelling of the face, lips, or throat
- hives or itching in areas of the body not
affected by the sting
- breathing difficulties, such as wheezing or
- sudden drop in blood pressure
- loss of consciousness
- nausea or vomiting
- stomach cramps
- weak or racing pulse
You may not experience all of these symptoms after a wasp
sting, but you’re likely to experience at least some of them after a subsequent
sting. According to the Mayo Clinic,
people who have gone into anaphylactic shock after one sting are 30 to 60
percent more likely to show the same reaction in the future.
If you have a history of anaphylaxis, carry a kit in the
event of a wasp sting. “Bee sting kits” contain epinephrine injections
(Epi-Pens) that you can give yourself after a wasp sting. Epinephrine relaxes your muscles and
blood vessels, helping your heart and respiration rates return to normal.
Treating wasp stings
Mild to moderate reactions
You can treat mild and moderate reactions to wasp stings at
home. Wash the sting area with soap and water to remove as much of the venom as
possible. Apply a cold pack to the wound site to reduce swelling and pain. Keep
the wound clean and dry to prevent infection. Cover with a bandage if desired.
Use hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion if itching or
skin irritation becomes bothersome. Baking soda and colloidal oatmeal are
soothing to the skin, and can be used in the bath or through medicated skin
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, can
manage pain associated with wasp stings. Antihistamine drugs, including
diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine maleate, can reduce itching as well. Take
all medications as directed to avoid potential side effects, such as stomach
irritation or drowsiness.
Severe allergic reactions to wasp stings require immediate
medical attention. If you have an Epi-Pen, administer it as soon as symptoms
begin. If you have a history of wasp allergies, administer the Epi-Pen as soon
as you are stung. Then call 911.
Treatment for severe allergic reactions to wasp stings can
- additional epinephrine to calm your immune
- intravenous cortisone to reduce inflammation
- cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if breathing
has temporarily stopped
- oxygen, steroids, or other medications to
Complications of wasp stings
In rare cases, wasp stings can contribute to complications
involving the nervous system.
A report published in the Annals of Tropical Medicine and Public Health examined
unusual cases in which a pediatric patient experienced muscle weakness, pupil
dilation, and motor aphasia following a wasp sting. (Motor aphasia is the impairment of speech and writing abilities.)
The patient’s problems were precipitated by a blood clot
that was caused by a severe reaction to a wasp sting. These particular complications
are extreme and highly unlikely to occur.