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First Aid for Bee and Wasp Stings

By Chris Williams on August 6, 2012.

Most reactions to bee and wasp stings are mild, resulting in a slight swelling and an itching or stinging sensation that disappears within a day or two. People who are allergic to wasp or bee stings can have an immediate, life-threatening reaction (called anaphylactic shock) that requires medical intervention. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction requiring immediate medical attention include nausea, stomach cramps, facial swelling, difficulty breathing or speaking, anxiety, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and shock.

First Aid For a Person With a Nonallergic Mild Reaction:

  1. Remove the stinger if stung by a bee. The longer the stinger remains in the skin, the more venom is released and the larger the welt left by the sting. Scrape the stinger off with a fingernail or remove it with tweezers. Yellowjackets and other wasps don’t leave their stingers behind.
  2. Wash the area with soap and water.
  3. Apply a cold pack or cloth filled with ice.
  4. For pain, use an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. For itchiness apply a topical cream containing hydrocortisone, lidocaine, or pramoxine, or use an itch cream containing calamine lotion, baking soda, etc.
  5. Take an antihistamine such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton.
  6. Sometimes an initially mild reaction develops some lesser allergic symptoms such as mild nausea, cramps, diarrhea, or swelling larger than 4 inches in diameter at the bite site. If any of these symptoms occur, or if the swelling extends beyond the joint where stung, see a doctor. This could be an indication that the person is developing a more serious allergy to stings.

First Aid For a Person With a Severe Allergic Reaction:Follow these steps if the person has any of the anaphylactic symptoms mentioned above or if the person has a history of allergic reaction to stings even if no symptoms are present.

  1. Call 911 for emergency help. Mention the sting.
  2. Check for medications that the person might be carrying to treat an allergic attack such as an EpiPen. Administer the drug as directed, usually by pressing the autoinjector against the person’s thigh for several seconds.
  3. Loosen tight clothing and cover the person with a blanket. Don’t give them anything to drink.
  4. If the person is vomiting or bleeding from the mouth, turn them on their side.
  5. Begin CPR if the person is not breathing.
  6. Make sure someone stays with the person for 24 hours after anaphylaxis in case of another attack.

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