Wasps are known to attack and sting humans so minimizing contact with the insects is ideal, but we’re not always fortunate enough to walk away unscathed.
Wasp stings can be incredibly painful and, for those who are allergic to insect stings, can be quite serious. When in doubt, seek professional medical attention by calling 911, poison control or an emergency hotline to describe your particular situation and to get the help you need.
1. Check for severe or systemic symptoms
First aid basics warn that if someone has been stung and experiences trouble breathing, feels dizzy, develops hives, has a history of allergic reactions or experiences swelling of the throat, mouth or lips, then you should call 911.
Other severe symptoms can include gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, abdominal cramping, vomiting and diarrhea. These more extreme symptoms can be a result of anaphylaxis, also known as an anaphylactic reaction, and can result in a deadly situation for those with insect sting allergies if left untreated.
While waiting for professional help to arrive, try to keep the person who has been stung as calm as possible. Provide verbal reassurance that help is on the way and the situation is under control. If the individual carries an EpiPen with her, go ahead and use it, following the instructions carefully. Help the person find a comfortable place to rest and continue to check on her breathing and consciousness. Stay with the person until the professional arrives and be aware that, when it comes to having been stung by a wasp, collapsing or going into shock are both possibilities.
If there is only a local reaction to the sting site itself and there are no severe or systemic symptoms, then you may be able to effectively care for the wound without professional medical attention. If you have any doubts on how to proceed, however, don’t hesitate to consult with a medical professional by phone to double check the protocol for a particular case.
2. Take off any constricting jewelry or apparel
Look at the wounded site and remove any jewelry or tight clothing that will be in the way when you try to remove the stinger. Also take off any item that will become trapped or uncomfortable as the sting site begins to swell. If you don’t immediately take off a ring or bracelet, for example, you may not be able to comfortably remove it later.
3. Carefully remove the stinger
Wasp stingers contain droplets of venom so getting the toxic object out of the body carefully and quickly is the best recipe for long-term success. However, this step can be a challenge since you don’t want to squeeze the stinger and accidentally inject even more venom into the wounded site.
Carefully use the side of your finger to scrape off the stinger. If you have a straight-edged object handy such as a pen or a bobby pin, you can alternatively use such a resource to gently flick off the insect remains.
Ideally, you would be able to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water and use a tool that has just been disinfected with an agent like rubbing alcohol. At the very least, quickly apply some hand sanitizer to your fingers before trying to reach for the stinger.
4. Clean the injected site
If possible, move to a location where you can wash the injured site with soap and water. If you are in the midst of camping or in some other similar situation without running water, go ahead and use an antibacterial wipe or liquid to cleanse the skin. The washing process may cause some additional pain, but the act is an important step towards a quick and full recovery.
5. Minimize the swelling
Place ice on the swollen area for ten minutes. Afterwards, go ten minutes without having ice on and then go ahead and put ice on the site for another ten minutes, as needed, to help control the swelling. Use an ice pack or place ice cubes in a washcloth that can then be applied to the skin.
If you can, elevate the part of the body that was stung for additional anti-inflammatory benefits while icing. Use pillows, blankets or any other comfortable resources to prop up a leg or arm. If the individual has any blood flow problems, you may find it necessary to ice for a shorter duration to avoid causing any circulatory damage to the skin.
6. Conservatively treat the pain
The wasp sting probably hurts and itches, but quickly taking pain medication or applying anti-itch cream can mask the severity of symptoms and disguise an allergic reaction. Administering or offering a medicine that someone has never taken before can cause problems: if the patient ends up having a bad reaction to the medicine itself, you may be unsure if the problems are arising from the wasp sting or the medication.
To play it safe, you should avoid giving the stung person any painkillers or stimulants right after the incident without a medical professional’s recommendation to do so. After the situation has been carefully analyzed, however, you may be inclined to offer an oral antihistamine like Benadryl if the person knows their body responds fine to taking such a medicine. An over-the-counter drug like this can be effective in treating mild symptoms of allergic reactions.
7. Continue to monitor the sting site for the next few days
A wasp sting can continue to itch as well as appear red and swollen for around two to five days so don’t be alarmed if the site isn’t back to normal by the end of the day. Continue to keep the area clean and be sure to watch for any increase in swelling, redness or pain, which can all be signs of infection.
If anything seems to change for the worse or you go a week without improvement, consider calling a medical hotline or visiting the doctor to explain your situation and get a professional opinion on if any follow-up is needed.