When Pests Invade

When Stung by a Hornet or Wasp: 10 Steps to Alleviate Pain & Prevent Complications


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Wasps and hornets, though vital to our ecosystem, can become a menace when provoked, often leading to painful stings. Knowing what to do immediately after a sting can make a world of difference in managing pain, reducing swelling, and preventing potential complications. Here’s a step-by-step guide to effectively deal with wasp and hornet stings.

1. Stay Calm and Safely Retreat

Your first reaction might be panic, but it’s essential to remain as calm as possible. Swift movements can provoke other nearby wasps or hornets. Once stung, move away from the area to avoid additional stings. Almost all Hornets and wasps can sting multiple times. Slowly move a safe distance from the animal or the nest.

2. Remove the Stinger (If Present)

Not all wasps leave a stinger, but some, especially honeybees, do. If a stinger is left embedded in the skin:

  • Use the edge of a credit card, your fingernail, or a blunt object to scrape it out gently.
  • Avoid using tweezers, as squeezing the stinger can release more venom.

3. Clean the Area

When there is no stinger present or it has been removed it is time for the next step. Wash the sting site with soap and cold water gently. Cleaning can help reduce the risk of infection.

4. Apply a Cold Pack

Using a cold pack or cloth-wrapped ice can help reduce swelling and numb the area, providing relief from pain. Ensure you don’t apply ice directly to the skin; always wrap it in a cloth. Apply for 10 minutes on, then 10 minutes off. If there is no cold pack or ice, check the freezer, you can always try a bag of frozen vegetables.

5. Consider Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

If the pain persists, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help. Always follow the recommended dosage and consider any personal allergies or contraindications.

6. Use an Antihistamine for Persistent Swelling or Itching

For those who experience more considerable swelling or itching, an over-the-counter antihistamine can be beneficial. It can help manage the body’s reaction to the venom. Make sure to follow dosing instructions and be aware that some antihistamines can cause drowsiness.

7. Monitor for Allergic Reactions

A small percentage of people can have severe allergic reactions to wasp or hornet stings. Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty breathing or tightness in the throat
  • Swelling of the face, lips, or throat
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you or someone you’re with exhibits any of these symptoms, call 911 or seek emergency medical attention immediately. These are signs of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition.

8. Home Remedies to Consider

While clinical evidence can be limited, many people find relief from:

  • A paste made of baking soda and water applied to the sting.
  • Applying apple cider vinegar to the affected area.
  • Using essential oils like lavender or tea tree oil, which have antiseptic properties.

However, always do a patch test when trying a new remedy to avoid potential skin reactions.

9. Avoid Scratching

Scratching the sting site can lead to increased itching, inflammation, and potential infection. Keep the area clean, and if itching persists, consider an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

10. When to See a Doctor

If your symptoms don’t improve within a few days, or if there are signs of an infection (increased redness, warmth, pus, or if the pain worsens after initial improvement), it’s time to seek medical attention.


While wasp and hornet stings are common and usually not cause for significant concern, being prepared and knowing the right steps to take can make the experience less daunting. Always prioritize safety, keep a close watch on symptoms, and when in doubt, consult with a healthcare professional.

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