Honey bees, bumblebees, yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps use a stinger to inject venom. Until recently, conventional advice on the immediate treatment of honeybee stings emphasized that the stinger should be scraped off (using a credit card or fingernail), never by pinching or using tweezers. Experts believed pinching or squeezing the venom sac would force more venom into the skin.
But, a study conducted by University of California and Pennsylvania State University researchers concluded the main factor determining the amount of venom injected was how long the stinger remained in place, not the method of removal.
This finding, say the study authors, contrasts sharply with conventional wisdom on the immediate treatment of bee stings, which results from a misunderstanding of the structure and operation of honeybee stings. The stinger continues to inject venom; but it is the valve system, not contraction or external compression of the venom sac, that pumps the venom.
The bottom line? Honeybee stingers should be removed as rapidly as possible without concern for the method of removal. This conclusion, the researchers point out, relates only to honeybees and their Africanized cousins.
Unlike the honeybee, wasps and yellow jackets do not leave their stingers imbedded after an attack, so they can sting multiple times.
After a honeybee stinger is removed, wash the area with soap and water. You can soothe the sting by covering it with a cold compress (such as ice wrapped in a wet washcloth), calamine lotion, a paste of baking soda and water, or an anti-itch medication, such as Benadryl.
If you’re allergic to bee stings, get medical attention immediately after removing the stinger. You may develop hives, swelling around your lips and eyes, and have difficulty breathing. Also seek emergency medical attention if a rash or symptoms of shock, such as pale skin, rapid pulse, and faintness, occur. These symptoms can rapidly lead to respiratory failure and even cardiac arrest.
People known to be allergic to bee stings should ask their doctor to prescribe a bee sting kit, which contains an injection to ward off serious complications, keeping the kit handy any time they’re outdoors.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers these pointers:
– Avoid wearing bright colors, flowery prints, and black clothing that attract stinging insects. This goes for odors from soaps, perfumes, lotions, and hair-care products.
– Pay special attention to open soft drink containers and glasses. Swallowing an insect can be dangerous; a sting inside the throat can swell your airway.
– If an insect lands on you or your food, blow or gently brush the insect away. It’s only investigating or foraging.