Hornet stings can be a very unpleasant way to end a hike or camping experience. They can be much worse than that, too, since some people may have severe allergic reactions, which can lead to death. This is especially true if you have to endure an Asian giant hornet sting, which results in severe, long-lasting pain.
So, what should you do if you are stung by a hornet? Here’s how to treat hornet stings so that you can maximize your chances for an easy recovery.
How to Identify a Hornet Sting
Before we delve into the question of treating a hornet sting, let’s first see how to identify one. There are thousands of different stinging insects on the planet. So, especially if you didn’t see the guilty party that stung you, you’ll have to identify it by the mark it’s left on your skin.
Hornet stings typically look like bee or wasp stings. If you’ve been stung by a hornet, you’ll notice a raised welt around the sting location. There will also be a small white mark in the center of the wound. This is the puncture site, where the stinger entered the skin.
With bees, you’ll typically find the stinger itself still lodged in your skin. With hornets and wasps, the stinger will remain attached to the insect. It’s worth checking if there is a stinger in your skin, though. If there is, you were probably stung by a bee and you should remove it as quickly as possible to prevent at least some of the venom from entering your body.
Hornet Sting Symptoms
If you’ve identified the sting as being from a hornet and have no signs of an allergic reaction, you’ll probably suffer no more than localized swelling and some pain for several hours. That should be it.
That is just the best-case scenario, though. If localized swelling and pain is all you experience, then you haven’t developed any significant allergic reactions to the sting. Consider yourself lucky. There are those unlucky ones among us who will experience a mild-to-strong allergic reaction. Here are some of the allergy symptoms you should look out for:
- Red and itchy rashes that can spread well beyond the sting site
- Severe swellings on the face, lips, tongue, or throat
- Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or difficulty swallowing
- A rapid heart rate or a weak pulse
- A drastic drop in blood pressure
- Dizziness and disorientation
- Shock, cardiac arrest, or unconsciousness
Some of these are manageable and will give you time to react, take first aid measures, and contact a medical professional. But, some of them can be so severe that they can render you incapable of taking control of the situation.
This is why it’s of the utmost importance to wear protective clothing and use insect repellent. Always keep a packet of antihistamines in your pocket if you plan to be near where hornets live. If you know that you have an allergy, always keep an EpiPen with you.
First Aid and Home Hornet Sting Remedy Options
So, what are the main things you should do immediately after being stung by a hornet? Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Check for a stinger (in case it was a bee) and remove it immediately by scraping the skin with a credit card or using a similar method.
- Take an antihistamine to relieve and preemptively counteract any allergic reaction. Antihistamines are generally good for any hiker or camper to have on hand as they can also help with many seasonal allergies.
- Wash the sting site with soapy water.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream to the area to relieve the redness, itching, and swelling.
- Apply ice or a cold pack to the sting site. Wrap the ice with a towel or keep a piece of cloth between the ice and your skin to prevent freezing. Apply the ice for 10 minutes and then remove it for 10 minutes to relieve the pain and swelling. Repeat as necessary.
- If needed, take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief.
- If you haven’t had a tetanus booster in the past 10 years, consider getting one over the next couple of days.
- Contact a medical professional if you notice any of the severe symptoms we listed above.
These are the basic first aid treatments and remedies you should consider immediately after being stung. After that, observe the sting site and the rest of your body for any symptoms of an allergic reaction. Seek immediate professional help if necessary.
Professional Hornet Sting Treatment Solutions
For more severe allergic reactions, the medical professionals that will hopefully reach you in time may do any of the following:
- Perform local wound care with antibiotic or corticosteroid ointments.
- Prescribe antihistamines for the itching, pain relievers, and/or a tetanus immunization (if needed).
- Inject steroids or epinephrine (adrenaline), in more severe cases.
- Insert a tracheal tube to help you breathe and prevent suffocation if you have throat swelling or difficulty breathing.
- Give you intravenous fluids, which is common in these cases.
The doctor should order a blood test if you’ve been stung multiple times, even if there’s no sign of a severe allergic reaction. Prolonged observation in the emergency department is sometimes necessary for the worst cases.
As you can see, there are lots of things that you can and should do after a hornet sting. Hopefully, everything will go away after several hours of pain and a rash, but that’s not always the case.
Even if you’ve been stung by bees or wasps before and haven’t had an allergic reaction, this doesn’t mean that you won’t develop a severe allergic reaction to a hornet sting the next time. This is why it’s always important to watch out for hornet nests. Make sure you’re always prepared when hiking in the wilderness. Always take protective clothing, insect repellent, and a pack of antihistamines with you as well as a travel buddy for extra safety.