First Aid for Bee and Wasp Stings - FamilyEducation

First Aid for Bee and Wasp Stings

Learn the best methods for treating bee and wasp stings.

In This Article:

The difference between a wasp and a bee

When a bee or wasp stings you, the distinctions that make one insect a bee and one a wasp hardly matter. However, it's important for you to know one distinguishing factor: wasps are more aggressive than bees.

Bees are “vegetarian,” feeding their young only nectar, and they live in hives built from natural wax secretions. Bumblebees and honeybees simply look for nectar and pollen to take back to their hives for food. If you leave them alone, chances are, they will ignore your un-honeyed arm or leg.

Wasps (also called hornets) are more belligerent. They, too, go after pollen and nectar, but because their tongues are shorter, they are unable to get nectar from many flowers that bees can. Therefore, wasps feed their young other insects in addition to nectar. Wasps build their nests from paper or wood, or they burrow into the ground. Yellow jackets are a type of wasp.

A honeybee (left) looks similar to a yellow jacket (right), but it is much less aggressive.
A honeybee (left) looks similar to a
yellow jacket (right), but it is much less aggressive.

At First Bite: Symptoms of Bee and Wasp Stings

One sting from a bee or a wasp will cause a burning feeling at the site of the bite. It will hurt—probably a lot—but the pain will be localized. The site might swell, turn red, and itch. Multiple stings are more serious. They can cause fever, headache, muscle cramps, and drowsiness.

Stings are not usually life-threatening, but they can be if you have an allergy to the bee's venom. Signs of allergic reaction include nausea, excessive swelling, trouble breathing, bluish face and lips, choking, shock, and unconsciousness. If someone is sensitive to bee stings or if someone receives multiple stings (which can create an allergic reaction even in non-allergic persons), call for emergency help immediately. Watch the victim's vital signs and treat for shock or breathing difficulties if necessary.

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