How Dangerous Are Yellow Jackets?

Medically Reviewed on 1/22/2021
The recommended first-aid is to apply ice over the sting and raise the affected part.
The recommended first-aid is to apply ice over the sting and raise the affected part.

Yellow jackets or wasps are considered extremely dangerous because of the following reasons:

  • Their sting can invoke severe reactions.
  • They can sting repeatedly.
  • They release chemicals that attract more wasps that can sting and attack. Hence, it is recommended to leave the place immediately after the attack. They will try to defend their nests and territory using their stingers on you. The venom from a yellow jacket’s sting can trigger such severe allergic reactions in some people; this needs immediate medical attention.
  • The patient may feel severe pain followed by reddening and swelling in the affected area.
  • For a small number of people, a sting from a yellow jacket can be life-threatening. This is called anaphylaxis, and it causes the closing of the airway.
  • If stung, you will get itching and a rash followed by a swollen tongue and throat, which causes breathing problems, dizziness, stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.
  • In severe cases, you may become unconscious, comatose, or even worse.
  • Signs of an allergy to the venom of a yellow jacket may include hives, difficulty breathing or swallowing, hoarseness, coughing, tightness in the chest, or slurred speech. If anyone exhibits these symptoms, immediate medical attention should be sought.

What is the best treatment for yellow jacket stings?

The recommended first-aid is to apply ice over the sting and raise the affected part. Do not apply peroxide, ammonia, or any home remedy because it may do more harm than good. Usually, yellow jackets do not leave a stinger, but if one is present, use a straight-edged lever, such as a credit card or flat edge of a butter knife, to scrape away the stinger. Do not squeeze to get the stinger out because you will release more venom into your system and make the sting worse. Before treating the affected area, make sure the stinger is not still in your skin. If left inside your skin, this can cause an immense amount of pain and can cause infection. If a person gets stung by a yellow jacket, here are the steps to follow:

  • Wash the sting site with soap and water.
  • Use a cold pack on the affected area to reduce the pain.
  • Keep the stung area elevated.
  • Apply a topical antihistamine on the affected area.
  • If the topical application doesn't seem to help much, take an oral antihistamine to further relieve any pain, swelling, or itching. Benadryl is usually recommended.
  • To help with pain, take Ibuprofen. This will also help with inflammation. Tylenol is also an option that can help with the pain.
  • An anesthetic spray, such as Solarcain, that contains benzocaine may provide some pain relief.
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream or Calamine lotion to the skin to relieve itching and swelling. Be sure to follow the label instructions on the medication.
  • Never break or pinch blisters that develop after the sting.

Seek medical help immediately if:

  • You have been stung more than 10 times.
  • You have been stung in the mouth or throat.
  • You have any symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or speaking, swelling in the mouth or throat, wheezing, confusion, weakness, hives or rash, or tightness in the chest.

Rarely a wound may become infected. Yellow jacket may carry bacteria on their stingers due to visiting landfills. Frequent scratching or improper initial treatment of the sting site can also cause infection. Infected stings need to be seen by a doctor and treated with antibiotics and antihistamines. Symptoms of a secondary bacterial infection at the sting site include:

  • A large local reaction that can measure 10 inches or more in diameter
  • Increased pain at the sting site
  • Increased swelling and redness and the sting site
  • Drainage of pus from the sting site
  • Fever
  • Symptoms last more than 1-2 days or get worse in that period

Treatment:

Consult the doctor immediately for further treatment, which may include antibiotics and antihistamines, as well as an epi-pen.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/22/2021
References
Anderson M. Avoid Painful, Often Dangerous, Encounters with Yellow Jackets. The EPA Blog. September 28, 2016. https://blog.epa.gov/2016/09/28/avoid-painful-often-dangerous-encounters-with-yellow-jackets/