Yellow Jacket Sting Treatment

While these reactions are painful, they do not usually require a visit to the doctor or a trip to the emergency room.

How to treat a yellow-jacket sting

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Yellow jackets are stinging insects that have yellow marks on their head and body. Because of their coloring, people commonly mistake them for bees.

Yellow jackets are the most common source of stings in the United States.

In this article, we take a look at why yellow jackets sting people and what people should do if they do get stung.

If a yellow jacket sting causes a mild reaction that can be treated at home, there are several steps a person can take. These include the following steps:

medical cream on the finger

Applying a steroid cream

Putting a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream onto the sting site can help to reduce itching and swelling. This medication is available over the counter or online and should be applied three times a day.

Applying a paste to the sting

Make a paste by mixing water and meat tenderizer powder. This powder contains enzymes that can neutralize the yellow jacket’s venom. As a result, pain and swelling will decrease. Do not apply this paste near a person’s eye.

Another option is to make a paste of baking soda. Remove the paste after 20 minutes.

Applying cold

Rubbing a sting with an ice cube can help to reduce pain, as can applying an ice pack. However, always wrap the ice pack in a cloth to protect the skin from damage.

Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever

Pain relief medications can help reduce the pain and discomfort associated with a yellow jacket sting. Some are available for purchase over the counter or online, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Taking a dose of diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

This medication can help to reduce hives or the severe itching that can sometimes accompany a yellow jacket sting. Benadryl is available for purchase over the counter or online.

Using an EpiPen

Severe allergic reactions are usually treated with an injection of epinephrine, which can reverse the effects of an allergic reaction. If a person experiences serious allergic reactions, a doctor will typically prescribe an epinephrine injector, which is also known as an EpiPen. People should carry this device with them at all times to reduce the risk of having an allergic reaction.

When a yellow jacket stings a person, it inserts its stinger into the skin and injects venom. It is this poison that causes a person to experience a reaction. The venom also contains proteins that can cause an allergic reaction.

Share on Pinterest People who are stung on the face are more likely to experience increased swelling.

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Examples of reactions to a sting include:

  • Pain: The insect’s sting can cause pain, itching, and burning. For those who experience mild reactions, the pain usually lasts for 1 to 2 hours.
  • Redness: Stings can often cause a red, ring-like reaction. The redness will last up to 3 days and does not necessarily represent an infection.
  • Swelling: Bee stings can cause swelling that lasts up to 2 days after the initial sting. The swelling can vary based on the degree of reaction as well as the location where a person was stung.

For example, stings to the face tend to cause more pronounced reactions and swelling than stings elsewhere on the body.

While these reactions are painful, they do not usually require a visit to the doctor or a trip to the emergency room.

Anaphylactic reaction

Some people can sometimes experience a severe and life-threatening reaction to a yellow jacket sting, however. This is known as an anaphylactic reaction.

This reaction will usually occur within 2 hours after the person was stung. The main symptoms are swelling of the airways, which can cause difficulty breathing and swallowing.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If an adult or child is experiencing this, someone should call 911 or seek emergency medical treatment.

If a person develops hives that cause swelling, they should call their primary care physician or child’s pediatrician, as this can lead to anaphylaxis.

If a sting reaction gets worse over time instead of better, a person should seek medical treatment. Infection usually sets in about 24 to 48 hours after a person has been stung.

Doctors cannot always predict who will have a strong adverse reaction to a yellow jacket sting.

According to some research, developing an allergic reaction to yellow jacket stings does not seem to run in families. About 30 percent of those who experience a severe reaction to a yellow jacket sting also have other allergies that result in skin irritation.

It is possible that a person can be stung by a yellow jacket once and not have a severe reaction, yet have a severe reaction to a subsequent sting.

What to Know About Yellow Jacket Stings

A yellow jacket sting is unpleasant for anyone. However, some people are allergic to yellow jacket venom, so a sting can be life threatening. There are several things you can do to treat a yellow jacket sting at home, and there are steps you can take to prevent stings.

What Causes a Reaction to a Yellow Jacket Sting?

All stinging insects, including yellow jackets, belong to the class of insects called Hymenoptera. They inject venom into your skin through a stinger. The venom is what creates a reaction. Yellow jackets are responsible for most stings in the U.S. They are the most aggressive of the stinging insects.

Do Yellow Jackets Leave Stingers?

Yellow jackets don’t usually leave stingers in your skin. Because of this, they can sting you multiple times, unlike bees. Bees leave their stingers in your skin, so they can only sting you once.

Symptoms of a Yellow Jacket Sting

Local reaction. For most people, a yellow jacket sting causes minor discomfort that passes within a few hours. These symptoms occur at the site of the sting and can include:

Large local reaction. Some people experience a large local reaction. If you have a large local reaction once, you will usually have this type of reaction if you are stung again. Symptoms of this include:

  • Mild reaction initially that grows to about 2 inches within 12 to 24 hours.
  • Reaction peaks 48 to 72 hours after the sting.
  • Reaction occurs at the location of the sting but may include an entire arm or leg.
  • Symptoms generally get better over 5 to 10 days.
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Systemic reaction. Yellow jacket stings can cause serious allergic reactions called systemic reactions in some people. This type of reaction affects one or more organ systems. Symptoms of a systemic reaction can include:

  • Coughing
  • Tightness in your throat or chest
  • Tickling in your throat
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Hives over a large part of your body

Treating Yellow Jacket Stings

The main symptom of a yellow jacket sting is redness and pain. Here are some ways you can treat a local reaction:

Remove the stinger. Although yellow jackets don’t normally leave a stinger, sometimes they do. The stinger looks like a tiny black dot in the area of the sting. Use your fingernail or a credit card to scrape it off. If it’s below the surface of your skin, leave it alone. It will come out on its own.

Clean the area. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.

Elevate. If the sting is on your arm or leg, prop it up to help reduce the swelling.

Apply meat tenderizer. Make a paste of meat tenderizer and water. Apply to the sting with a cotton ball for 20 minutes. This might neutralize the venom and help with the pain and swelling. If you don’t have meat tenderizer, you can use an aluminum-based deodorant or baking soda. Do not do this if the sting is near your eye.

Use a cold pack. If the meat tenderizer doesn’t work, rub the area with an ice cube for 20 minutes.

Pain medicine.Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help with the pain. Take it according to the directions on the bottle.

Apply a steroid cream. Use a 1% hydrocortisone cream. You can buy this cream over the counter. Use up to 3 times daily.

Take an antihistamine. If your doctor says it’s okay, take an over-the-counter antihistamine.

What to Do for an Allergic Reaction

Call 911. If you or someone you’re with has any of the following symptoms after a yellow jacket sting, call 911 immediately:

  • History of severe allergies to yellow jacket stings
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hoarseness, coughing, tightness in the throat
  • Problems swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Too weak to stand

Seek help immediately. In any of the following situations after a yellow jacket sting, call your doctor or seek immediate treatment:

  • Sting inside your mouth or eye
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • More than 5 stings per 10 pounds of weight, or more than 50 stings in a teenager
  • Spreading redness from sting site
  • If you or the person who was stung feels very sick
  • If you feel that you or the person who was stung needs to be seen urgently

How to Prevent Yellow Jacket Stings

Here are some tips to help avoid yellow jacket stings:

  • Wear light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid wearing scented deodorant, perfume, or soap.
  • Check your drink container before taking a drink.
  • Avoid areas where you know there are yellow jackets.
  • If a yellow jacket is in your car, stop your car and roll down the windows so it can get out.
  • Don’t swat at yellow jackets. If you see one flying around, slowly back away.
  • If a yellow jacket lands on you, be very still and slowly brush it away or wait for it to fly off.

Show Sources

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Insect Stings.”

Seattle Children’s: “Bee or Yellow Jacket Sting.”

TeachMeMedicine.org: “Hymenoptera Venom Allergy.”

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: “Controlling Wasps, Hornets, and Yellowjackets.”

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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