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What to do if you're stung by a yellowjacket

Sometimes, despite all precautions, yellowjackets will sting people unprovoked.

In most people, a yellowjacket sting produces an immediate pain at the sting site. There will be localized reddening, swelling and itching. Unlike a bee, a yellowjacket will not leave a barbed stinger in the skin.

A yellowjacket will often bite the skin to get a better grip, and then jab its stinger into a person's flesh repeatedly.

Here's what to do if you or someone with you is stung by a yellowjacket:

  • Wash the wound carefully with soap and water. This will help remove the venom.
  • Apply cold water or ice in a wet cloth, or a paste of meat tenderizer with water.
  • Take a pain reliever or an oral antihistamine to reduce swelling.
  • Apply a calamine product to reduce itching.
  • Lie down.
  • Lower the stung arm or leg below the heart.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take sedatives.

If the sting is to the throat or mouth, seek medical attention immediately! Swelling in these areas can cause suffocation.

Signs that a person may be allergic…

  • Severe swelling in parts of the body distant from the sting site
  • Widespread skin irritation/hives
  • Constriction in throat and chest/difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

The above symptoms after a sting point to anaphylaxis -- a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. 

If you’re with someone who is experiencing anaphylaxis, you should:

  • Call 911 
  • See if they have an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector (Epi-Pen) and inject them
  • Try to keep them calm
  • Help them lie on their back
  • Raise their feet about 12 inches and cover them with a blanket
  • Turn them on their side if they are vomiting or bleeding
  • Make sure their clothing is loose so they can breathe
  • Avoid giving them oral medications or anything to drink, and avoid lifting their head -- especially if they’re having trouble breathing

For more information about an insect sting allergy, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology is a great resource.