Bee or Wasp Stings: A NYC Allergist Tells you When to Seek Help

The summer is the best time in New York to be outside playing sports: softball, tennis, biking or even going on walks in the park. It’s even great for outdoor picnics if you can find a shady spot without to many annoying insects. I do see more insect stings to bees, wasps and hornets during this time of year. Most of the stings are not dangerous- they just hurt! The wasps in particular like food and especially sugary food- so watch out if you soda or fruits which will attract them. The wasps are much more aggressive than bees; the bees will tend to sting you only if you disturb them by swatting at them, or if you step on them by accident- pardon me, Mr. Bee. The most common reaction from an insect sting is a local, painful swelling where the sting occurred. There is no good place to be stung, but the head, face and fingers tend to be very painful. If you are stung, quickly check to see if the stinger is still in place; if it is, use tweezers or your nail to “scrape” it away- never pinch the sac and then lift up- this just injects more venom into your body. After the stinger is removed or if you don’t see it, apply ice immediately to the area. This will slow the absorption of the venom to other areas of your body, it will also prevent a large local swelling. The next step would be to use an antihistamine: Claritin or Benadryl both have fast-acting preparations and will help. If the local swelling is quite large, you may need topical and oral cortisone to decrease the swelling.

When should you seek medical attention for a sting: if at any time you develop hives all over your body(away from the sting site), or you are short of breath or wheezing; if you feel faint or feel confused- these are all signs of a general reaction which require immediate medical attention. This smartest move would be to go to your closest ER and tell them you’ve been stung. After assessing you, they should give you an injection of epinephrine (adrenalin) which in over 90% of the time will reverse the reaction. After you been stabilized and sent home, you should make an appointment with an allergist to find out if you are allergic to any bees, hornets or wasps. The testing is important because in people highly allergic to insect stings a future sting could be worse or fatal. There is proven allergy immunotherapy that does protect against insect stings.

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island

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