Treating insect stings

Treating insect stings

Most bites and stings aren’t serious but it’s handy to know a few easy tips to ease the pain.

Although an insect sting is a way of the creature defending itself, that’s little comfort when you or your child is left with a painful wound! The swelling can last up to a couple of days and might feel sore or itchy, but should pass.

What to do after a sting

  1. Stay calm. If you have been stung, try to get someone else to help you carefully remove the sting. A long fingernail, credit card, or similar should be scrapped along the skin to attempt to lift the sting out. Bee stings leave part of the body pumping its venom as it flies off to die. So do not use tweezers. Usually wasp stings don’t leave the sting but occasionally they can. If a child has been stung calmly encourage your child to leave the sting site alone, soothe him and then remove the sting.
  2. Clean the affected patch of skin.
  3. Relieve the pain with a cooling dressing (a flannel or a scarf that’s been run under cold water, for example).
  4. Reduce the swelling by gently applying a cream containing an antihistamine – this will also help ease the itchiness. If possible, keeping the affected body part raised can also help keep the swelling down.
  5. Children should be discouraged from scratching their wound as it could become infected, especially if you are out and about when it happens and your child’s hands are dirty.

Avoid spreading the venom
Bee stings contain a venomous sac which, if it bursts before being removed, will spread the venom under the skin, so stay calm and make sure you removed the whole sting as gently as possible. Don’t squeeze as you might when removing a splinter.


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Old wives’ tales
There are all kinds of homemade treatments that people claim will help with bee or wasp stings. These include rubbing regular malt vinegar on a wasp sting and bicarbonate of soda on bee stings. Other people enthusiastically recommend onion or even chewing tobacco! These are NOT medically proven treatments and, as every person is different it is important not to experiment on children or those who may become ill if they experience a bad reaction.

More than one sting
If you are stung more than once by the same or by several insects, you might experience a worse reaction because there is a larger amount of the venom in your system. This will usually just increase the feeling of discomfort, but if it brings on a more serious reaction then seek medical help. For danger symptoms, see below.

When a sting is more serious
For most of us, stings are just a passing discomfort, but in rare cases a sting can cause an allergic reaction. If the person appears to be immediately unwell, seek emergency medical help straight away. See the danger symptoms section.

Danger symptoms after a sting
Symptoms to a sting that should be treated as an emergency include: nausea, a headache, increased heart beat, feeling faint or dizzy, difficulty in swallowing or a swollen mouth or face, wheezing, swelling or itching on the body in other parts of the body as well as the spot where the sting occurred. 

Tip Early in the year wasps are hunting other insects and generally don’t cause a problem but as we move into late July and August, they begin to develop a taste for sugar. They focus in at this time of year on sugar sweetened food and drink. If you want less hassle from wasps don’t give your children sugary drinks, lollipops or large sucking sweets when wasps are about.

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