HCN News & Notes

AFC Medical Director Offers Advice on Treating Stings from Bees, Wasps, and Yellowjackets

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Summer brings out a variety of stinging insects, and while many people can’t tell the difference between a bee, a wasp, or a yellowjacket, they all have one thing in common: their stings hurt and, for some people, can be life-threatening.

“Stings from these common summer pests are painful, but there are a couple scenarios in which they can also be very dangerous,” said Dr. Vincent Meoli, regional medical director of American Family Care (AFC), with locations in Springfield and West Springfield. “The first is if someone is allergic to the venom the insect injects, and the second is if someone is stung multiple times, which can intensify the reaction.”

Most of the time, stings from bees, wasps, and hornets can be treated safely at home. In the case of a bee sting, remove the stinger from the skin; wasps and yellow jackets don’t leave their stingers behind, but that also means they can sting repeatedly.

For all stings, Meoli advises the use of a topical steroid cream, cold compress, and over-the-counter pain reliever to help with pain and swelling. Benadryl, also available over the counter, can help in the case of severe itching or localized hives. Redness and swelling near the sting site can last up to a week.

“Signs of an allergic reaction or other serious problem include difficulty breathing; swelling of the lips, throat, or tongue; dizziness or fainting; weak, rapid pulse; hives over much of the body; flushed, sweaty, and pale skin; nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea,” Meoli said. “Anyone who exhibits of any these symptoms needs immediate medical care. A severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, is a life-threatening emergency.”

Meoli also cautions those with known allergies to be extra cautious. “If you know you are allergic to insect stings, even if past reactions have been mild, be prepared with your prescription for epinephrine as the intensity of reactions can increase over time. If you are stung and need to use your EpiPen, be sure to seek medical care afterward.”