10 Tips to Prevent and Treat Insect Stings

Photo: Bryan Sie/flickrWhen I was a child, we spent long, lazy summers in the country with my cousins. The kids all enjoyed running wild and exploring nature. One day nature came a little too close for comfort, though, when we spotted a papery, cylindrical structure hanging from a porch beam. My mother explained it was a wasp nest and that we should be very, very careful not to disturb it in any way. I took great care to tiptoe around it, though it seemed like weeks before my parents got rid of the nest. (It was probably just a day or two.) Many childhood fears seem silly in retrospect, but I still have a healthy dose of caution when it comes to stinging insects. Here are 10 tips on how to stay out of their way, and what to do if you end up getting stung.

  1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Learn to identify common stinging insects. Bees have a single set of wings and fuzz-covered bodies which are usually striped. (By the way, the rumor that bees can sting only once is true … at least when we're talking about human victims. The stinger embeds in our skin and the bee dies.) Wasps, including the subspecies yellow jackets and hornets, have smooth bodies with two sets of wings. These creatures are capable of stinging multiple times.
  2. Keep your distance from stinging insects and their papery-looking homes. If wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets build a nest in the vicinity of your house, don't take a chance on being stung over and over again -- hire a pest control expert to get rid of it.
  3. Try not to walk barefoot outside on the grass; instead, wear closed shoes if possible. Avoid dressing in bright colors, which tend to attract stinging insects. Check any food or drinks you are consuming out of doors, especially cans of sweet soda -- an insect may have crawled inside.
  4. Carry an EpiPen (auto-injectable epinephrine) when you or your child has a history of allergic reaction to insect stings, and be sure that you know how to use it.
  5. If anyone does get stung and the stinger remains in the skin, scrape it out immediately (use a gentle horizontal motion), together with the venom sac to minimize the amount of poison that is released.
  6. Administer epinephrine via the EpiPen, if applicable, and call 911 immediately. The EpiPen will temporarily prevent the allergic person from going into potentially fatal anaphylactic shock, but he or she must still have professional medical treatment ASAP.
  7. Also seek emergency medical assistance for a sting victim whose face or mouth is swollen; who is dizzy or unconscious; or who is struggling to breathe, speak, or swallow.
  8. In case of a milder reaction, there are a number of things you can do to make the person who was stung more comfortable. Start by cleaning the affected area with soap and water or a moist towelette, if possible.
  9. Apply a cold compress to the skin to relieve the pain of the sting. When far from home, you can improvise a compress with a T-shirt soaked in cool water from a drinking bottle.
  10. To soothe burning or itching, apply vinegar, aloe vera gel, or a steroid ointment to the sting. An oral antihistamine may also be helpful. Seek medical advice, however, before you give any type of pain medication.
  11. Take the sting victim to the doctor if he or she was stung in the vulnerable area of the mouth, or if there is worsening pain, swelling, fever, or pus several hours afterward.

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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