How to Treat and Prevent Bee and Wasp Stings
Picnics. Parties. Camping. Enjoying the great outdoors and hanging out with friends is often filled with fun surprises. Most would agree that getting stung by bees or wasps is not a “fun surprise.” Why do they attack? How does one treat and prevent them? Look no further because the answers are here.
All About Bees
Photo by Anson Aswat on Unsplash
Photo by Meggyn Pomerleau on Unsplash
The best way to prevent and treat something is to understand why it happens. Only female bees (worker bees) and wasps can sting(earthsky.org). Worker bees, bees that collect nectar and pollen, can only sting once because they die after stinging. The barbed stinger gets stuck inside the animal’s skin. When the worker bee tries to pull away, they tear out their digestive systems, muscles, and nerves connected to the stinger. Yikes. It’s a pretty gruesome way to die, but bees have a good reason for stinging. According to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, bees only sting in self-defense or defense of their hive. Like most relationships, relationships with bees require space and care. Respect bees’ personal space and keep a reasonable distance away from their home.
If you failed to heed the warning above or were unlucky enough to step on a bee accidentally, don’t panic. Most of the time, bee stings are minor and few. To paraphrase the Mayo Clinic, apitoxin, or bee sting venom, is an acidic toxin produced by bee stingers that trigger a response from skin cells and the immune system.
Symptoms of Bee Stings
Symptoms of bee stings range from mild, moderate to a severe allergic reaction, as explained by the Mayo Clinic. The effects of mild reactions vanish after a few hours. These effects include instant, sharp burning pain, a red welt, and slight swelling around the sting site. A more intense reaction felt by most people include extreme redness and swelling at the sting site that enlarges over the next few days. This reaction will resolve over 5–10 days, and, usually, this reaction happens again when one is stung. However, if the response worsens each time, it is best to contact one’s doctor. For people who are severely allergic to bees, their immune system overreacts, causing anaphylaxis. Hives, itching, and flushed or pale skin, difficulty breathing due to the swelling of the tongue and throat, and a weak rapid pulse mark severe allergic reactions. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, fainting, and a loss of consciousness. Potentially deadly, these allergic reactions need emergency treatment.
When bees sting, they release a chemical that warns other bees of danger. More bees come to aid their fellow fallen soldier in defense of the hive against humans and other animals. Multiple stings result in a whole slew of distressing conditions because of a more significant amount of toxin. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, vertigo, fever, convulsions, and fainting.
Treatment of Bee Stings
Unless it’s an allergic reaction, most stings can be treated at home with some over the counter products and supplies one already has. For example, fingernails. According to Healthline.com, it is necessary to remove the barb from the skin as soon as possible. The longer the stinger is in the skin, the more toxin it releases. Swiping at the affected area with a fingernail or something stiff like a credit card will do the trick. It is best not to use tweezers or pinch the skin because that could drive the barbed stinger further into the skin. Cold compresses and ibuprofen can reduce pain and swelling. Keep the wound clean to avoid infections, and if infections occur, call one’s doctor.
Prevention of Bee Stings
It is essential to know how to prevent bee stings. The Mayo Clinic advises not to wear bright colors, floral prints, and loose clothes outdoors because bees might mistake you for a tasty flower. Wear closed-toe shoes to prevent stings on your foot. Cover sweet drinks, food, and trash cans since “Bees are in a constant search of food to bring back to their hive and feed young bee larva”(childresnmuseum.org). That’s a lot about bees, but what about the insects from which they evolved?
All About Wasps
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash
Bees and wasps, though closely related, look different and sting for various reasons. Wasps have pointed lower abdomens and a “narrow ‘waist,’ (a petiole) that separates the abdomen from the thorax”(nationalgeographic.com). They come in a wide range of colors, “from yellow to brown, metallic blue, and bright red.” All wasps build their papery nests from chewed wooden fibers, unlike bees that construct theirs from wax. Like bees, only female wasps sting and wasps emit pheromones that summons other wasps. However, according to National Geographic, “wasps are divided into two primary subgroups: social and solitary.” Social wasps, such as yellow jackets and hornets, are wasps that build colonies. It is the smallest subgroup with only a few thousand species out of 30000 identified species. Like honeybees, social wasps use their stingers for defense, but “stinging solitary wasps, generally wasps with brighter colors, rely on their venom to hunt.”
Symptoms of Wasp Stings
Another characteristic sets wasps apart from bees. Wasps can sting several times. Wasp stings have similar symptoms and allergic responses to bee stings, such as redness, pain, and itchiness. Like bee stings, address allergic reactions immediately. It is fine to treat mild and moderate cases at home. A raised welt characterizes a normal local response, and more fierce results might induce nausea and vomiting.
Treatment of Wasp Stings
Follow these steps from Healthline.com to treat wasp stings: First, remove as much of the wasp venom as possible by washing the area with soap and water. Then, like treating bee stings, apply cold packs to reduce swelling and pain. Hydrocortisone cream and calamine lotion reduce itching and skin irritation. Baking soda and oatmeal creams and baths are another way to soothe the symptoms. Since the wasp stings are alkaline based, the acid in vinegar can neutralize the toxins. Press a cotton ball soaked with apple cider or white vinegar on top of the area. To prevent infection, keep the would clean. Covering the wound with a bandage is optional.
Prevention of Wasp Stings
Preventing wasp stings is relatively simple. Take the same precautions one would with bees, such as covering food and checking to ensure that no bees or wasps are in it. Flies attract wasps. “Nearly every pest insect on Earth is preyed upon by a wasp species”(nationgeographic.com), so take extra steps to remove the garbage, fallen fruit, and animal feces. The Mayo Clinic also advises having hives and nests nearby removed by professionals. Roll up windows when driving and be careful when mowing the lawn or trimming vegetation.
In conclusion, bees and wasps sting for a good reason. Keep a reasonable distance from them, their hives, and take the necessary precautions. Respecting these valuable creatures will protect both parties. Of course, accidents happen, but you know how to handle them now. Stay safe, vigilant, and enjoy your time outdoors!
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