Yellow jacket stings: prevention and treatment

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If you've ever experienced a yellow jacket bite, you know how painful it is. Yellow jacket wasps, predatory relatives of bees, have a reputation for being aggressive. His bite hits.

While most people can heal themselves by freezing the bite and taking antihistamines, others may need medical attention as allergic reactions can occur, which in some cases can be serious. Here's what you need to know about preventing yellow jacket bites and what to do if you do get stung.

mariusz_prusaczyk / istock

Prevent yellow jacket bites

Stay at a safe distance from yellow vests to avoid being severely bitten. Yellow jackets can be distinguished by their dark, elegant, thin and long wings. Although bees can also have yellow and black markings, they are usually thick and hairy with light-colored wings.

Yellow jacket wasps are also carnivorous predators, and bees feed exclusively on flower nectar. Yellowjackets are predators and scavengers that are easily attracted to the sugars and proteins found in picnic foods. If you are eating outside and wearing yellow jackets, leave the scene immediately.

Yellow jackets are inherently aggressive and will get even more aggressive if you try to drive them away. Provoking them with smoke, insecticides, or other means can increase your chances of being bitten. Additionally, when provoked, yellow jackets release chemicals known as pheromones into the air, which encourage other wasps to join them in an attack.

Treatment for yellow jacket bites

When the yellow jacket bites you, its sting pierces your skin and injects a poison that causes sudden and often severe pain. After a few hours, you may also develop redness and swelling around the bite site.

Unlike a bee sting, a yellow jacket does not sting after being bitten. This way you don't have to remove the sting like a bee .

If you feel itchy and painful without other symptoms, you can heal the injury by doing the following:

  1. Wash the bite site with soap and water.
  2. Apply a cold compress to the bite to relieve pain. To avoid damaging your skin from the cold, place a cloth partition between the skin and the ice pack. Keep the pack moving and avoid icing your skin for more than 20 minutes.
  3. Apply an antihistamine lotion or calamine lotion to your skin.
  4. If necessary, take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to relieve mild itching and swelling. Avoid driving a vehicle or heavy equipment as the medicine can cause drowsiness .

Various home remedies can also be found online, including applying baking soda and water, vinegar, or commercial meat tenderizers to the bite. While some people strongly believe in these home remedies, there is no evidence that they are effective. Be careful before trying any of these remedies at home.

Allergic reactions and anaphylaxis.

Systemic allergic reactions to insect stings affect up to 5% of the population during their lifetime, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy .

Certain insect bites can cause a life-threatening allergy known as anaphylaxis. This happens more often with bees than hornets, as their sting mechanism can remain in the skin and continue to secrete venom long after being bitten. However, it is possible with a yellow jacket bite.

Overall, according to a 2007 study from the Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center, about three out of every 100 people bitten by an insect will experience anaphylaxis .

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)
  • Wheezing
  • Hives or rashes
  • Swelling of the face
  • Swelling of the tongue and throat
  • Rapid heartbeat ( tachycardia )
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty swallowing ( shortness of breath )
  • Feeling of impending doom

Anaphylaxis from insect stings can develop at an alarming rate, with symptoms usually appearing within 5 to 10 minutes. Delayed reactions, also known as biphasic anaphylaxis, are more likely to occur with food and medications than with insect stings.

Call 911 or seek emergency help if you or a loved one experiences symptoms of anaphylaxis after being bitten by a yellow jacket. If you have a history of anaphylaxis or have experienced a severe reaction to an insect bite in the past, you may be advised to carry an epinephrine auto-injector , also known as an EpiPen, in case of an emergency.

If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to shock , loss of consciousness, coma, suffocation, heart or respiratory failure, and death.

If you are at risk for anaphylaxis, ask your doctor for a referral to an allergist for immunotherapy treatments (also known as allergy shots). The goal of immunotherapy is to reduce sensitivity to insect venom by introducing small amounts into the body at regular intervals.

If successful, immunotherapy can help prevent anaphylaxis . However, it cannot erase all allergy symptoms.

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