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Column originally published Aug 29, 2023

Ways To Deal With Bee And Wasp Stings

Question: Last week, our younger son was stung by a wasp on his index finger. It became a bit swollen, but didn’t look too serious. I applied an antibiotic cream and put a bandage on it. The following day, his whole finger was markedly swollen and very red, and he couldn’t bend it. I was scared, but tried to keep myself calm. He didn’t have a fever, although his finger was quite painful. I gave him Benadryl and Advil, but he didn’t get better until the next day. I am worried that if he gets stung again, will the reaction be worse? What if he was stung on the neck, or in his throat if he drinks something and a wasp is in it? Our older son had a similar reaction last year on top of his foot after he was stung by a wasp; he has a lot of allergies, and he takes Reactine every day. I want to know what I can do proactively in future.


You have asked some very good questions. We share the outdoors with bees and wasps that can sting us. The bees can sting us once only, and will die because they lose their stinger in the process. Wasps can sting over and over; with each sting, they inject a small amount of venom into our skin.

Fortunately, most bee and wasp stings are relatively mild and localized, unless the sting is on the neck, the face, or inside the mouth and throat. This can happen when the bee or wasp lands in a cup of juice, and the person drinks it without noticing the insect in the juice. That is why it is important to keep an eye on flying insects when we enjoy outdoor activities in the summer. If anyone gets stung this way, they have to go to emergency right away, because the swelling in the throat can cause suffocation.

Most of the time, bees and wasps sting us when they feel threatened. It is important to avoid being too close to their nests. Use of perfume, cologne, and scented soap can attract them, as well as bright coloured clothing. If they are flying around you, stay calm and don’t react or try to swat at them. Eventually, they will fly away. Insect repellents are not effective against them. Also, don’t run bare feet on grass; if you step on a bee or wasp, for sure you will get stung on the foot.

If you are stung by a bee, it is important to remove the stinger as quickly as possible, because venom continues to be released from the stinger for 45 to 60 seconds after the sting. You can remove it quickly with fingernails.

Our body reacts by allowing fluid to leak out of blood vessels close to the sting, to dilute the chemicals in the venom. If he has been stung before, the body’s immune system will respond by sending immune cells and antibodies to counteract the venom. Histamine will also be released from the mast cells in the skin. It will be a local reaction, although the swelling can be quite large, red, and painful.

You can treat the local reaction with over-the-counter creams that contain antihistamine. The more effective treatment is oral antihistamine, including Benadryl, Claritin, and Reactine. Benadryl is fast-acting, but the effect may not last more than a few hours; Claritin and Reactine can provide longer benefit. Tylenol and Advil can provide some pain relief as well. It is always a good idea to have these medications handy when you have outings with your children.

If you worry that they are developing allergic reaction to bees and wasps, you can ask for skin tests that are usually done by allergists.

Rarely, a person can have anaphylactic reaction after a bee or wasp sting. In addition to local swelling, there can be rashes in other parts of the body. She can feel sick and dizzy, with dropping blood pressure, difficulty breathing and cough, and become unconscious. This is a medical emergency, and 911 should be called.

I hope these suggestions will reduce your worry, allow you to be better prepared, and let you enjoy the summer with your children.