This article describes the effects of a wasp sting.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage a sting. If you or someone you are with is stung, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Wasp venom is poisonous. It is injected into you when you are stung.
Wasps carry this venom. Some people are allergic to the venom and have a serious reaction if they are stung. Most people do not need emergency medical treatment if they are stung.
Below are symptoms of a wasp sting in different parts of the body.
Note: The symptoms marked with an asterisk (*) are from an allergic reaction to the venom, not from the venom itself.
Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
- Swelling of throat, lips, and mouth *
Stomach and intestines
- Abdominal cramping
- Nausea and vomiting
Heart and blood vessels
- Severe decrease in blood pressure
- Hives *
- Swelling and pain at site of sting
For severe reactions:
Call 911 if the person has an allergic reaction (severe swelling or difficulty breathing). You may need to go to the hospital if the reaction is severe.
If you know you are allergic to bee, wasp, or yellow jacket stings, carry a bee sting kit with you and know how to use it. The kit requires a prescription.
To remove the bee stinger:
Carefully scrape a blunt edge (such as a butter knife) over the area to remove the stinger. Do this only if the person can stay still and it is safe to do so. You can also pull out the stinger with tweezers or your fingers, but avoid pinching the venom sac at the end of the stinger. If this sac is broken, more venom will be released.
Clean the area thoroughly with soap and water.
For mild symptoms:
Place ice (wrapped in a clean cloth or other covering) on the site of the sting for 10 minutes and then off for 10 minutes. Repeat this process. If the person has blood flow problems, reduce the time the ice is used to prevent possible skin damage.
If the person has only mild symptoms, give them the antihistamine medicine diphenhydramine (Benadryl) by mouth if they can swallow. This may be all that's needed to treat a mild reaction.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Type of insect
- Time the sting occurred
- Location of the sting
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
If an emergency room visit is necessary, the health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated. The person may also receive:
- Blood and urine tests
- Breathing support, including oxygen, tube through the mouth into the throat, and breathing machine
- Chest x-ray
- EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Intravenous fluids (through a vein)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
If an allergic reaction occurs, death may occur within 1 hour. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Symptoms in people who do not have a sting allergy are likely to go away completely within a week.
Erickson, TB, Márquez A, Jr. Arthropod envenomation and parasitism. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 50.
Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 62.
- Last reviewed on 7/14/2015
- Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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