Taking the sting out of first aid: Bee and Wasp Stings

12 Jul 2021
Bee sitting on a purple flower

With the weather being so humid lately and people trying to draw more bees into the garden, we are certainly seeing an increase in them. This is a great thing for our food chains, although not so great if you have a fear of stings or an allergy.

Luckily according to the Anaphylaxis Society only 1% of people have a bad reaction to a bee or a wasp sting and only a minority of them will experience anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is a severe life threatening allergic reaction, that can be fatal. The figures also show if someone experiences anaphylaxis after one sting, they are 60-70% more likely to have subsequent episodes. 

A word about insects:

A bee is not an aggressive insect and generally will only sting if it feels under threat. This happens when stood on, touched, or swatted away. A bee sting is the type that leaves the barb in the skin. The whole time the barb remains in place it will continue to release venom into the body. The wasp on the other hand has an aggressive nature and stings more readily. It does not leave a stinger behind so can sting you more than once.

As the insects are different they do have different ways of stinging. An allergy or sensitivity to one does not mean it will happen with both insects.

Tips to avoid being stung:

Certainly if you or your child are sensitive to bee and wasp stings then its good practical advice to adopt a few easy precautions to lower your chances of getting stung in the first place;

If someone has a reaction to bee and wasp stings they often panic but this is often what causes them to get stung. Running away, flapping arm motions etc will create panic and increase the risk of getting stung. Certainly although its one of the hardest things to do when you are scared, staying calm and still, is the best advice. The insect often sees no threat and will often move on.

What’s the correct treatment for bee and wasp stings? 

For a bee sting the barb must be removed immediately. You should avoid using tweezers as this squeezes the venom sack releasing more toxins. Instead it is best to scrape or flick with a credit card to push the barb out.

Apply a cold compress or ice pack immediately. Being sure to not place the ice directly on the skin. It can be helpful to elevate the limb to help reduce swelling. Ensure you remove any jewelry from the area in case of swelling.  Some simple antihistamines may be helpful, as may a insect sting reliever cream, although check with a pharmacist before giving medication.

If the person is stung to the face, throat or inside the mouth, then they should seek medical help. While help arrives you can give them ice pops, ice cubes, or a cold flannel to suck on to help with any swelling.

If they are experiencing any signs of anaphylaxis or breathing difficulties you should call 999 immediately. 

What does anaphylaxis look like?

Anaphylaxis can manifest itself in a number of ways. Including the symptoms here: 

The simple thing to remember is call 999/112 immediately if you see any of the above symptoms and state the word ANAPHYLAXIS. Emergency help will be dispatched straight to you.


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