Bees and wasps: expert advice in case of bites and stings

wasp sting

The sting of a bee or wasp is a painful experience and for a child it is even more so.

What is the best way to treat a bee or wasp sting?
It seems that every family has its own secret medicine.
In fact, these home remedies have no real medical or scientific basis and although most of them are not dangerous, they are not particularly effective either.

Stinging bees and wasps

For most people, a bite causes nothing more than pain, swelling and redness around the bite, which is called a local reaction.
Usually the reaction regresses on its own in a few days.
However, a small percentage of people are allergic to insect bites and experience a much more severe and dangerous reaction, called a generalised reaction.

Bees and wasps with stings can inject a dose of poison and the immune system, once stimulated, can cause an anaphylactic reaction with even fatal consequences.
The good news is that this type of allergic reaction is rare.

According to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), between 60 and 70 people in the United States die each year from allergic reactions to stings. Tens of thousands more have more severe reactions that are not fatal.

If the sting and poisonous sacs remain attached to the skin, they must be removed as soon as possible, taking care not to crush them so as not to favour the penetration of the poison.

For the mildest cases, we suggest applying ice to the sting, or using painkillers or antihistamines.

wasp sting

For the most serious cases, which have an affected skin area of more than 10 cm, it is possible to consider taking corticosteroids for 3-5 days.

Signs of generalised allergic reaction

In general, symptoms develop rapidly and may include

  • A feeling of malaise, tingling and dizziness.
  • Generalized itching and hives
  • Swelling of the lips or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing and sibilant breathing
  • Loss of consciousness and collapse
  • Difficult breathing
  • Hoarseness during breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea or diarrhoea
  • Difficulty swallowing

Anyone exhibiting one of these symptoms should go to the emergency room immediately.

Most likely, people who have had a generalised allergic reaction in the past will have another after a new bite.
However, sometimes people who have never had an allergic reaction to previous bites have a general allergic reaction to the next bite.
Fortunately, this first reaction is less likely to be fatal.

People who know they are allergic should always have access to an epinephrine self-injector.
An auto-injector is a portable device that injects you when you push it against your skin.
You do not need to know how to “inject”.
Epinephrine (adrenaline) is a drug that treats allergic reactions and can save lives.
Use the self-injector at the first sign of an allergic reaction.

If there are no signs of a generalised reaction, follow these steps:

Remove the sting with a blunt object

Bee and wasp stings are relatively similar, with one major exception.
After a sting, bees leave a barbed sting in the sting (and the bee dies).
Bumblebees, on the other hand, have a smoother sting that can bite several times without letting go of the insect.

After a bee sting, the sting must be removed as soon as possible. In many cases, the bee also leaves the poison bag on the sting, which continues to pump poison until it is intact. So the sooner you remove the sting, the faster you stop the flow of toxins.

Gently scraping a blunt object, such as a credit card or butter knife, on the affected area is the best way to get rid of the sting. Avoid using tweezers or anything else that might pierce or crush the poison bag and make the symptoms worse.

Apply a cold pack

As soon as the sting is removed, a cold compress can help relieve the pain (but do not soak the whole area in ice).

An oral or cream antihistamine may help to relieve itching and swelling.

Elevate the area

Depending on the bite position, lifting the area can help reduce swelling.
Often, the level of swelling caused by the bite can be frightening.

In fact, a bite on the hand can cause the hand to swell up to twice its normal size.

Prevent bee and wasp stings

The sting of a bee or wasp is a form of defence.
If they feel threatened or if their nest is disturbed, they become aggressive and react with bites.

There are some practical and easy measures that can help to avoid bee and wasp stings:

  • Don’t panic: if you discover that there are bees and wasps nearby, keep calm and move away slowly.
  • Don’t shout flapping your arms or chase them away: it will shake them and make them more aggressive.
  • Avoid sweet and strong smells: for example, very fragrant shampoo or hairspray.
  • Avoid bright colours: bright floral patterns on clothes and bags can attract these insects.
  • Avoid orchards or areas with fruit plants where bees and wasps go in search of food.
  • Avoid keeping drinks open: If you leave drinks in cans or uncovered bottles, you can encourage wasps to get into the container.
  • Remember that bees and bumblebees are social creatures. They bite people just to protect their hives. The old rule is true: if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.
  • Cleanliness: make sure that children’s hands and face are clean after consuming drinks and sweet food.