Wasp Sting Treatment Dos and Don’ts

The sting of a wasp

Wasps, like bees, can and will sting if provoked. A wasp stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg-laying appendage) and thus is only present in females. Unlike the stinger of a honey bee, wasp stingers are not barbed, so they don’t detach. As a result, wasps can sting multiple times.

The sting of a wasp is immediately painful due to the venom the wasp injects into its victims. Typical reactions to wasp stings include swelling and redness at the site. These are local reactions. They differ from more severe, systemic, reactions in that they are local to the sting site. Systemic reactions occur in other parts of the body.

Local reactions can be normal or large. A normal reaction includes a welt, often with a small white spot at the center. The initial pain is sharp and dulls after a few minutes. Sensitivity at the site can last for days. Wasp sting swelling will likely go down within a few hours, however. Commonly, wasp stings are itchy. Large local reactions, on the other hand, are typical of people with mild allergies to wasp venom.

after a wasp sting

Kamil Macniak/Shutterstock.com

Symptoms include enhanced redness and swelling, persisting and even increasing for two or three days. Nausea and vomiting are possible. Large local reactions typically last about a week and don’t require much in the way of treatment beyond that for a normal reaction.

The real danger of wasp stings is for those who have a more severe allergy, called anaphylaxis.

About one to two people out of every thousand are allergic to bee and wasp stings and some of those individuals have severe allergies. Symptoms include hives, nausea, stomach cramps, headaches, weakness, difficulty breathing/asthma, shock, rapid pulse, dizziness, throat blockage, and loss of consciousness. Typically, these symptoms manifest within a few minutes of the sting but can be delayed by up to 30 minutes.

Even people without allergies can become very ill or even die if stung multiple times. Such a situation is called mass envenomation. Depending on the number of stings, a person may experience severe pain or a mild or severe ill feeling. While only a few species of wasp have been tested, the lethal dose for the wasp Synoeca surinama is 1 sting per 2 pounds of body weight, while those of hornet species ranged from 0.75 to 2 stings per 2 pounds of body weight. This is in contrast to the honey bee, which must sting 17 times per pound of body weight to administer a lethal dose of venom.

Here, we will cover what you should and should not do in the event of a wasp sting as well as how the proper response differs for children and pets.

What to do if a wasp stings you?

For normal or large local reactions, wasp sting treatment is fairly simple. Wash the area with soap and water and ice it. It’s best to keep it clean and dry. This is easily accomplished with a bandage, though it may not be necessary. There are a variety of wasp sting remedies. Creams and lotions put on a wasp sting can help keep the itching to a minimum. A home remedy for wasp stings is baking soda mixed with water, which can help neutralize the acid in the venom. If the pain is distracting, over-the-counter pain medication will be sufficient, and antihistamines can help with itching, swelling, and hives. Vinegar can help with itching and meat tenderizer can reduce pain and swelling. It’s also recommended to boost your tetanus shot following a wasp sting if it has been more than 10 years since your last booster.

Those who develop severe wasp allergies do so with the first sting, but only present severe symptoms with the second. If you experience a large local reaction following a wasp sting, visit your doctor and discuss with them the possibility of consulting with an allergist. It may be necessary to carry an epinephrine injector (EpiPen) for the next time.

If you experience a severe allergic reaction to a wasp sting, a shot of epinephrine is required. Following injection, seek emergency medical help immediately. In the event that symptoms do not improve within 5 minutes and an ambulance has not arrived, you may administer a second injection (only if prescribed). In the meantime, lie on your back and elevate your legs around 12 inches. If you experience vomiting, lie on your side instead.

What NOT to do if a wasp stings you?

The first, and possibly most obvious, of the things you should not do, is scratch the sting. As with any wound, scratching can lead to infection by allowing skin microbes to enter the wound. Because local reactions are typically mild, there aren’t many don’ts. 


However, in the event of a severe systemic reaction, it is advised that you don’t stand up quickly or try to walk around. Don’t take any oral medicines or try to drink anything, and don’t raise your head, especially if you’re experiencing difficulty breathing.

Wasp stings in children

Treatment is the same for stings in children. However, it is important to keep in mind that the lethal number of stings is greatly reduced in children compared with adults. Emergency medical treatment may be required for even a few stings, depending on the size of the child.

Wasp stings in pets

Much like people, our companion animals can have local and systemic responses to wasp stings. Pets, however, are more likely to be stung in the face, where swelling can result in more dangerous reactions even in the absence of allergies. Even dead wasps can sting a pet if the animal eats it. If you see your pet pawing at their face, chewing on their paws, or limping, you should examine them for stings. If you suddenly hear them yelp or whine, it’s best to check them for injury. Like people, they will experience pain, swelling, and itching following a wasp sting. If the reaction is mild, you can wash the wound with soap and water, pat it dry, and ice it, but treatment is typically unnecessary. Distract your pet with quiet play, brushing, treats, or an easy walk. Don’t let them scratch or bite at the wound. An Elizabethan collar may be required. Monitor your pet for several hours after a sting in case a severe reaction develops. If you notice even the mild symptoms persisting for more than a week, consult with your veterinarian.

In the event of a severe systemic reaction, take your pet to the vet immediately. The same applies to mass envenomation. For mammals, it has been determined that 20 stings per kilogram of body weight are lethal. Symptoms of mass envenomation include bleeding, seizures, fever, difficulty walking, depression, dilated pupils, and facial paralysis. However, if you know that your pet was stung multiple times, the best course of action is a vet visit.


Wasp stings are painful and can lead to some very dangerous reactions. Here, we provide you with a treatment/response plan for the spectrum of wasp sting responses, from mild to severe. It is our hope that it helps you determine whether you can easily treat your sting at home or if you need some professional treatment. Kids are at greater danger from mass envenomation and this fact is crucial. Pets can also suffer from wasp stings and should be properly taken care of in that event.

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