Healthy Living

All About Wasp Stings

Wasp Stings

Introduction

A wasp is an insect that belongs to the order of Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita. Wasps can be identified from bees and ants through their physical and behavioral characteristics. They have a slimmer and smooth body with few hairs. 

Wasps are also parasitic and predatory in nature. Their stingers have few barbs, which can easily be removed from the victims. Like other members that belong to Apocrita, they have a slender waist that attaches their thorax to their abdomen. They also come in different colors, such as the familiar yellow to brown, bright red, or metallic blue. Most colored species of wasps belong to the Vespidae family or stinging wasps. 

When a wasp colony or nest is disturbed, social wasps emit a pheromone that enables neighboring colony members into a quick swarm and stinging frenzy mode. Only female wasps have stingers, which also serve as their modified egg-laying organ. Their stingers are also loaded with potent venom and can repeatedly sting, unlike bees. 

Symptoms of a Wasp Sting

Initially, a wasp sting can cause a sharp burning pain at the sting site. Other symptoms such as itching, swelling, and redness also follow after the sting. During and after a wasp sting, the symptoms observed are only minor in most people who do not have sting allergies. 

Most insect stings can be managed or treated at home unless you have sting allergies. In normal local reactions, a raised welt usually develops around the site of the sting. A small white mark may also be observed at the center of the welt or the area where the stinger punctured the skin. Swelling and pain usually subside after several hours. 

However, when the symptoms after a wasp sting are more noticeable or pronounced, it is considered as a large local reaction. Those who experience large local reactions may have an allergy to insect bites or stings, but do not experience a life-threatening reaction that can lead to anaphylactic shock. 

The common symptoms of large local reactions are extreme swelling and redness that tend to get worse after 2-3 days. Other symptoms may also include feeling nauseous and vomiting. In most cases, the symptoms subside over a week or so. These symptoms and other discomforts are often managed with the help of over-the-counter medications called antihistamines. 

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that may occur in response to wasp stings. When people go into shock due to a wasp sting, it occurs very quickly. For this reason, it is considered a medical emergency, which requires immediate medical treatment. 

The following symptoms may be experienced in severe allergic reactions:

  • Extreme swelling of the face, mouth, throat, or eyes
  • Hives 
  • Itchy parts of the body that are not affected by wasp stings
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Gasping for air
  • A sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Unconsciousness
  • Rapid heartbeat or a weak pulse

All of these symptoms may not be experienced after being stung by a wasp. However, there is an increased chance of having some of them after succeeding stings. 

People who have a history of anaphylaxis must always bring with them kits that have EpiPens or epinephrine injections, which help relax the blood vessels and muscles. However, keep in mind that anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction that always requires immediate medical treatment. 

Treatment

Mild to moderate reactions after a wasp sting can be treated at home. First, make sure to wash the affected area with clean water and soap to help get rid much of the venom before it has the chance to enter the bloodstream. Next, apply a cold compress to the affected site to help bring down pain and swelling. To help prevent infection, ensure to keep the wound dry and clean. Although optional, you can cover it using a bandage. 

Pain and itching can be managed by taking over-the-counter painkillers and antihistamines, such as ibuprofen and diphenhydramine (Benadryl), respectively. 

In cases of bothersome itching and irritation, you may use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Other remedies for skin irritation and itching are colloidal oatmeal and baking soda added to the bath. 

If you haven't had a tetanus booster shot in 10 years, you should definitely consider getting one soon after the sting.  

Severe allergic reactions are medical emergencies that need immediate medical care. Having an EpiPen kit ready can be a lifesaver in cases of severe allergic reactions. However, an EpiPen does not replace seeking medical help at the hospital, which is why you need to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately after taking an EpiPen shot. 

Other treatments for severe allergic reactions may include cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR when a person's breathing has temporarily stopped and the administration of other medications such as oxygen and steroids to help improve the victim's breathing, including additional epinephrine shots. 

Complications 

Nervous system complications may also arise in rare wasp sting cases. According to one case report, a man developed focal neurological deficit, which is a problem that affects brain function, 10 hours after being stung by a wasp. A focal neurological deficit affects specific areas in the body, such as the tongue, arms, or either side of the face. Other problems associated with focal neurological deficits include vision, hearing, and speech impairment. 

What is the difference between a bee sting and a wasp sting?

Wasps tend to be more aggressive than bees. When bees are away from their hive, they look for pollen or nectar and will rarely sting unless they are roughly handled or when they are stepped on. Generally, wasps will sting whenever they feel threatened but may take very little to provoke them. Unlike bees, wasps can repeatedly sting. 

When a bee stings, its stinger and venom sac remain implanted in the victim's skin for a continuous release of foreign substances. However, when a wasp stings, it does not leave a venom sac, and sometimes, does not implant its stinger to the victim's skin. Their stinger often remains intact, which enables them to sting their victim repeatedly. 

Key Takeaways

  • Wasp stingers are loaded with potent venom and can repeatedly sting, unlike bees. 
  • Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that may occur in response to wasp stings.
  • Most people who do not have a sting allergy may only experience mild to moderate symptoms after being stung by a wasp.