How to treat Wasp Stings, the Signs of Anaphylactic ShockAre wasp stings dangerous?
Wasp stings are painful and can also be life threatening to certain individuals, but treating wasp stings is relatively straight forward.
The wasp sting or more specifically wasp venom is a highly evolved biological weapon. Made from a variety of different specialised compounds including histamine, dopamine, mast cell de-granulating peptide to name but a few. Each compound has a unique affect when injected into the targets blood stream.
If a person is allergic to insect stings and they get stung by a Wasp, Hornet or Bee the venom can induce anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylactic Shock is an allergic reaction, in this case the allergy is to the venom of the wasp or bee sting. The body’s response to the venom triggers a quick release of histamines in large quantities and a lowering of blood pressure which can result in difficulty with breathing and in severe cases death.
Wasp venom is accumulative i.e. the more stings you receive the worse you could react. Anyone can receive a lethal dose of wasp venom if stung enough times.
If you are known to be allergic to insect stings then it is advisable to keep well away from the vicinity of a wasp nest or bee hives, also Antihistamine injections should be kept in a readily available location.
The danger with wasp stings and Anaphylaxis is, sometimes the person being stung doesn’t realise that they are allergic until after being stung. Also in the case of beekeepers that are repeatedly stung year after year, it has been known for the allergy to slowly build and each sting increases the risk of have an allergic reaction.
Most people are not allergic to wasp or bee stings, the sting just hurts. If however someone is stung and starts to feel unwell, then you should seek medical attention right away, don’t leave it.
If you or someone you know is stung by a wasp or other stinging insect, the signs of anaphylactic shock are:
- Red itchy skin rash
- Swelling of eyes, lips, hands and or feet
- Narrowing of air ways / difficulty breathing
- Feeling faint or dizzy / loss of blood pressure
- Feeling sick
- Being physically sick
- Metallic taste in your mouth
- Red, sore or itchy eyes
- Feeling that something bad is going to happen
The checks to carry out in a suspected anaphylactic case are:
- Are airways being affected?
- Is the affected person having difficulty breathing?
- Is the person affected feeling dizzy or are they fainting?
If any of the above symptoms are present, phone for an ambulance right away.
Older wasps that have been out hunting for insects invariably come into contact with dirty places as they forage for food. Wasps will visit dung heaps and other unsavoury places as these are the types of places their prey lives. As wasps hunt, they are generally walking about in muck and dragging their stings through this muck. As wasps age their venom sacks often become infected with bacteria.
If you are stung by an infected wasp, not only will you receive the venom from the sting, but also a dose of bacteria to go with it.
Wasps spread disease in the same way as flies do.
If you are stung by a wasp, the stinger part of the wasp doesn’t have a barb on it (well it does but the barbs are very small), so the wasp can sting repeatedly.
The venom is painful at first, but after some minutes the initial burning sensation will calm down and the sting will become itchy.
There are some sprays and creams available to ease the effects of a wasp or bee stings. It is wise to keep one or two of these treatments in your first aid kit as a precaution through the summer.
In the case of bee stings, the bee’s stinger has a barb on it, so when the sting punctures the skin, it sticks in and the bee then struggles to get free and the venom sack is pulled away from the bee’s abdomen and continues to pump venom into the skin of the person or animal stung. Once the bee has stung you in this fashion and the venom sack has become detached the bee will die.
If you are stung by a bee, then you will need to remove the sting. Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t matter how you remove the sting, some people say you should scrape it off rather than pinch it and pull it out. The same amount of venom is released into the victim if either method of removal is used.
The best course of action for relieving the pain is to place a ice pack over the stung area, as the venom is acidic the ice will help cool the reaction to the skin tissue.
Wasps, hornets & bees normally sting only in self defence when they, their nest or queen is under threat. There are occasional exceptions to this rule and some wasps are extremely over protective of their nests and will sting anything that moves within the area that the nest is located in.
It has been suggested that wasps become drunk on over ripe fruit in late summer and are more likely to sting, this is not the case. There is a higher risk of being stung by wasp in late summer simply because there are a higher number of individual wasps about at that time of year.
When wasps appear drunk in late summer/autumn, they are starving due to a lack of sugary foods available.
At this time of year wasps become a problem in pub gardens and other social events which bring them into closer contact with humans equalling more people being stung.
All three species use pheromones to communicate. The queen emits a pheromone in the nest to indicate that all is well. These pheromones also help the individuals find their way back to the nest and so on. Pheromones are an integral part of the wasp's life, without them they would not be able to operate and communicate in the way that they do. When a Wasp, Hornet or Bee stings you, it emits a different type of pheromone. These chemical messages are very fast acting and signal danger to the other wasps/bees in the nest or hive which also signals them to join in the attack.
This is when things can become extremely dangerous.
If you are stung by a wasp, hornet or bee and you are not sure if the nest is close by, firstly do not panic and run with your arms waving about, but move away from the area quickly and keep moving.
If you are unlucky and find yourself under attack from an entire nest or hive then you need to move quickly to the nearest undergrowth, trees, bushes, anything where you can loose sight of them. If you can get to thicker undergrowth, keep moving through it and normally the attack will stop. Wasps and bees will follow across large distances.
We should also point out, that if you are under attack from a nest, waving your arms around in the air will do little to prevent them from stinging you and will only attract attention to where you are and focus the attack.
Easy for us to say “remain calm” we know, but we treat many hundreds of wasp and hornet nests every year and by the very nature of interfering with these nests you can bet we get attacked regularly, we even have the t shirt.