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Stinging insects


Insect stings are uncomfortable and can often be distressing particularly if you are allergic to bee or wasp stings.

However, you can reduce the risk of being stung by getting rid of a wasp nest in or near your home, with the assistance of a pest control professional, whilst also taking some basic precautions when outdoors.

Insect stings vs insect bites

A mosquito biting a person

Insect stings should not be confused with insect bites.

Stinging insects such as wasps, hornets and bees use their sting as a defense mechanism, for the most part. They will only sting if they feel threatened. This can range anywhere from being in close proximity to their nest to aggravating and annoying them.

When it comes to stinging insects, only the females can sting. When a wasp stings she injects venom into or under your skin. This has an immediate effect causing a sharp, burning sensation. The same can be said for both hornets and bees.

Allergic reactions develop as a result of the venom not the sting or the insect themselves.

While wasps and hornets sting to defend themselves, biting insects (such as bed bugs) attack to feed on your blood. To give the insect time to feed, insect bites have evolved so that the pain is not as sharp as a sting (although the bite of a Horse fly is very painful), leaving the insect unnoticed whilst feeding upon you.

Wasp stings

Vespula vulgaris species of wasp

Wasps are the most aggressive out of all the stinging insects. They can sting you with little provocation.

However wasps won’t go out of their way to sting you. They will only sting if you either go too close to their nest, or you agitate them in some way.

Wasp sting treatment

The most common sting suffered from an insect is a wasp sting. Because their stinger has a smooth outer lining wasps can sting multiple times with ease.

Wasp sting symptoms

  • Swelling to the site of the sting lasting more than 24hr
  • Sharp burning pain
  • Itchiness
  • Visible welt where stinger punctured skin

How to treat a wasp sting

  1. Clean the area with soap and water to remove the venom
  2. Apply ice pack to sting to reduce the swelling
  3. Take an antihistamine

Allergic reaction to wasp stings

People can become victim to an allergic reaction to a wasp sting by their body reacting negatively to the venom injected. Severe allergic reactions to wasp stings are referred to as “anaphylaxis”.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a wasp sting

  • Swelling of face, lips or throat
  • Hives or itching areas of the body not affected by sting
  • Wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Weak or racing pulse

Hornet stings

Vespa crabro species of hornet

Compared to wasps, hornets are quite timid, only stinging if their nest is threatened. However a hornet's venom is much more powerful than that of a wasps. Because of this a hornet's sting is much more painful than that of a wasp or bee.

Allergic reaction to hornet stings

Because the venom in a hornet sting is a lot strong that a wasps and bees, a much more severe allergic reaction can occur.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a hornet sting

  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Dysperia
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Hypotension
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you have any of the above symptoms within 30 minutes from a bee, wasp or hornet sting then call an ambulance immediately as you could go into anaphylactic shock.

Bee stings

Honey bee in mid flight

Bees are much less likely to sting you than wasps and hornets. The most common reason for stinging is being sat or stood on. The key sign of a bee sting is a small stinger lodged inside the skin.

Do bees die after they sting?

Unlike that of a wasp or hornets a bee’s stinger is barbed. Because of this after inflicting a sting a bee’s stinger can become trapped in your skin. As the bee tries to fly away it inevitable rips its stinger from its abdomen, causing the bee to die. This leaves the stinger and the venom sack trapped in your skin, the venomous sac will continue to pump venom for more than a minute.

Once stung by a bee, the area around the sting will quickly become red and a raised weal (fluid under the skin) will form. The weal will reduce after a few hours, but it may remain itchy for more than a day.

Bee sting treatment

Getting stung by a bee can be quite painful, especially if you have a bee sting allergy.

Bee sting symptoms

  • Instant, sharp burning pain
  • Red welt around the area
  • Small, white spot where stinger punctured the skin
  • Stinger present in the affected area

How to treat a bee sting

  1. Remove stinger promptly using long fingernails or tweezers
  2. Be careful not to squeeze the sting sac as this will inject more venom into your body
  3. Wash the infected area with warm water and soap
  4. Apply ice to the infected area to help reduce swelling
  5. Take a antihistamine if necessary.

Allergic reaction to bee stings

Below are a list of symptoms which can be linked to an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a bee sting

  • Swelling around the throat, mouth or tongue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Breakout of hives
  • A weak, rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Loss of consciousness

Preventing insect stings

A wasp stinging a human

If you know you are sensitive to wasp, bee, and hornet stings you should take care to minimise the risk of being stung. There are practical steps that we can all take to avoid stings.

How to avoid insects stings:

  1. Avoid wearing bright colours and strong scents such as perfumes and deodorants as these attract insects
  2. Wear long sleeves, trousers, footwear or hats to reduce exposed skin
  3. Use insect repellent sprays on exposed skin
  4. Use insect repelling products or candles
  5. Avoid leaving sweet drinks and foods exposed
  6. Look out for bees before sitting, lying or resting
  7. Avoid areas where wasps cluster such as orchards
  8. Wear gloves if picking fallen fruit from the ground

Never try to swat wasps or bees. This will only aggravate them more, increasing the possibility of them stinging you.

Do not wave your arms and try not to panic as this will also excite the insect. If you enter an area with many stinging insects, walk calmly and slowly away to avoid wasp stings.

Allergic reaction to stings

Paper wasp guarding its nest

Some people are much more sensitive to hornet and wasp stings than others. Young children tend to be particularly sensitive to insect stings.

However, the key group at risk are the three percent of the population who suffer from an allergic reaction to wasp, hornet, and bee stings.

An allergic reaction to an insect sting can develop at any time, even if a reaction hasn’t occurred during previous stings.

For those who suffer from a more moderate allergic reaction to insect stings, there may be more general swelling around the wound. Consult your doctor if the swelling is severe or persistent.

Those stung by a wasp or bee on multiple occasions in previous years are at higher risk of developing an allergy to insect stings. Generally those who develop large local reactions to insect stings continue to have similar reactions to subsequent stings.


Anaphylaxis is a serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to a hornet, wasp or bee sting. Signs pointing towards anaphylaxis responses to insect stings include swelling, hives and lowered blood pressure. In severe cases, a person can go into shock.

Anaphylaxis can cause some people to go into anaphylactic shock. The anaphylactic shock caused by a wasp, hornet, or bee sting can be fatal. If you think you are, or know someone who is, going into anaphylactic shock seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Stinging insects in home or garden

A hornets nest in a garden

Wasps and hornets can be dealt with in your property by treating their nest. If wasp and hornet nest removal is needed, it should be done by a professional pest controller to ensure it is done properly and safely.

However, bees are beneficial to the environment and should not be killed if at all possible. In the case of a bees nest you should contact a Bee Keeper or the Bee Keepers Association to find an experienced person to re-locate the nest for you.

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