Wasp Stings

Wasp stings are caused by a wasp using its stinger to puncture skin and inject venom. Often the sting can cause a reaction to the surrounding area, which may be painful and irritating. In rare cases, wasp stings can cause a much more severe allergic reaction.

  1. Often painful and irritating
  2. Can cause reactions varying in severity
  3. Local skin reactions can be treated with antihistamines

People who develop a very serious allergic reaction to a wasp sting should seek emergency treatment, and use their adrenaline pen if they have been given one. However, if you have developed a milder local reaction to a wasp sting, and are looking for advice from a doctor on how to relieve irritation, our online video consultation service can help.

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What is a wasp sting?

If you develop symptoms such as hives, swelling of the face or throat or breathing problems after being stung by a wasp, administer your adrenaline pen as instructed by your doctor immediately, and call 999.

Wasp stings are caused by wasps piercing skin with their stinger. Through this, the wasp injects venom into the body; this causes pain and often swelling at the site of the sting. Some people are allergic to this venom and may develop other symptoms. Mild allergic reactions may cause skin irritation. More serious allergic reactions to a wasp sting can cause the airways to swell up, and result in a drastic drop in blood pressure, and may be life threatening.

Unlike bees, wasps can sting on multiple occasions and are particularly aggressive in autumn. Generally, worker wasps have finished building a nest by this stage, and are helping a queen to feed her young. They devote their time to searching for sugar to feed on, and this is when they become more prone to stinging people.

How common are wasp stings?

Wasp stings are incredibly common, and most people get stung by a wasp at some point in their lives. Their stings are quite distinct in that they cause pain almost immediately, and result in a red bump on the skin. 

In many cases, the stinger will detach from a wasp’s body when they fly away and become embedded in the skin, but they’re usually straightforward to remove.

There are various ways in which people can react to wasp stings. Some may only get a red lump and experience mild pain, which dissipates after a few hours. Other people may develop irritation around the wound due to a mild allergy to the venom.

What to do if you are allergic to wasp stings

Milder allergic reactions to wasp stings which are not life threatening can sometimes be treated with antihistamines. These work by easing the body’s immune reaction to a sting through blocking the action of the histamine chemical.

People who are severely allergic may develop a systemic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening, and are advised to carry an adrenaline autoinjector pen with them at all times. If they are stung and start to develop a reaction, they’ll need to inject this right away, and go to hospital for treatment. There are tests you can have to see if you are allergic to wasp stings. These are conducted by a doctor, and typically involve applying a miniscule amount of venom to the skin, or taking a blood sample. 

Our video service enables you to talk to a doctor online about wasp stings and get advice on how to manage symptoms. We work with GMC-registered practitioners who can advise you on whether you need a wasp sting allergy test, and ascertain what type of sting you’ve sustained, or provide guidance on what to do if it’s causing discomfort. Book an appointment at a time that suits you best.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

How do I know if it’s a wasp sting?

Most people will be able to tell if they’ve been stung by a wasp. In the majority of cases, pain will become apparent almost straight away. Sometimes a wasp will also leave the stinger in the wound, which can usually be quite easily removed.

The sting will develop into a red bump, which can swell and may be painful. This is likely to calm down after a few hours, but some people can develop a mild, local skin reaction (urticaria) to a wasp sting. 

People who develop more serious anaphylactic reactions as a result of a wasp sting will need to administer an adrenaline pen, and seek emergency medical help.

Will I need tests?

Not usually for a sting itself.

However, if a doctor or allergy specialist suspects you may be severely allergic to wasp stings, there are tests they can do to find out. The most common way in which doctors will do this is through a skin test. It involves injecting a very small amount of extracted wasp venom and waiting for reactions.

What will a doctor normally advise?

Most wasp stings won’t need treatment, and often the symptoms will clear up on their own. Although they may itch, it’s important not to scratch the sting, as this can cause further irritation.

More local reactions to a wasp sting, such as skin irritation, may benefit from treatment with antihistamines. 

If you are severely allergic to wasp stings, you’ll be advised to carry an adrenaline injector pen at all times, and administer this if you are stung by a wasp and develop a reaction. 

What treatments are there for wasp stings?

The treatment used will develop on the symptoms caused by the sting.

Antihistamines such as Benadryl (or the generic version Cetirizine) can be helpful where local swelling occurs due to a mild allergic reaction.Anaphylactic reactions will need treatment with an adrenaline pen such as EpiPen, Emerade or Jext, and urgent medical attention at a hospital.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How is a wasp sting treated?

It won’t always need treatment. Most people find that the pain and swelling associated with a wasp sting disappears after a few hours.

Local reactions can often be treated with antihistamines to help reduce skin symptoms. Corticosteroid medication might be recommended in some cases.

Where someone has a severe allergy to wasp stings, they’ll need to use an adrenaline autoinjector and go to hospital.

What treatments are there?

For milder reactions, antihistamines such as Benadryl or Cetirizine can be helpful, as can applying a cold compress to the site of the sting. Corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone cream, may be used to ease irritation.

Autoinjectors used in anaphylactic reactions include Jext, Emerade and EpiPen.

Are there side effects?

Antihistamines most commonly cause dry mouth and drowsiness. Hydrocortisone cream can sometimes worsen swelling and redness, and make the skin thinner.

The side effects reported for adrenaline injectors tend to be those associated with anaphylaxis. 

Can I consult a doctor about wasp stings online?

In the event of a severe allergic reaction to a wasp sting, you should administer your injector pen right away and call 999. You will need to go to your nearest accident and emergency department for treatment.

Our doctors are available for you to talk with online if you have developed milder symptoms, or want to find out more about how to treat wasp stings, and if a test for an allergy is required. Book an appointment slot at a time convenient for you. 

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020

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