Dr. Rachael Ross from the hit TV show
The Doctors explains bee and wasp stings, and discusses treatment for both.

Are there differences between a wasp and bee sting and the treatments associated with each?

Bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are all in the same order of insects called Hymenoptera. This means that, if you have an allergy to one, you will most likely have an allergy to all of them. If you, a family member or a friend is stung by a bee or wasp, you’ll first want to assess how mild or severe the sting is. For instance, one person may get stung and be fine, whereas another may not be.

When a person is stung by a bee or wasp, a small amount of venom is injected into the skin. Some people may have an allergic response, and others may have just a local response. For a local response, the person who is stung may experience flushing, itching, redness and swelling, or may even feel tingling of the tongue and face. The main thing to remember in this type of situation is to use supportive care to soothe the sting. This may include icing the area, using a cold spoon to soothe the sting or mixing baking soda and water, which forms a paste to rub on the affected area. With a mild reaction, the treatment is going to depend on whatever the person is comfortable with.

If examination of the sting reveals the stinger is still lodged in the skin, but protruding, sterilized tweezers may be used to remove it. However, if the stinger is buried under the skin, make sure to see a physician to get it removed. A lot of the time, people may try to use a safety pin to slice into the skin and remove the stinger; however, I do not advocate this, as this can cause an infection and worsen the situation.

Unfortunately, 50 percent of those allergic to bee stings who die from a severe anaphylactic reaction to a sting didn’t know they were allergic to Hymenoptera. It’s imperative that if you get stung you recognize some of the signs and symptoms of a severe reaction that necessitate emergency care.

A severely allergic person may begin to cough or wheeze, have trouble breathing, start to feel nauseated, dizzy and unable to maintain their balance, and complain of headaches, as well as fever. This means something systemic is occurring. System-wise the venom has infiltrated the body and the body is not getting rid of it. These symptoms are a response to the insult of the sting, an attempt to fight off the attack of venom. This would be considered an emergency situation. It’s very important to be aware of these symptoms and understand the difference between mild and severe reactions.

An instance where someone has been swarmed by bees is always an emergency situation, even for those not allergic to bee stings. Being stung by 10 or 15 bees means that a large amount of venom has entered the body, which can cause a more severe reaction, even in someone who is not allergic.

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Dr. Rachael Ross is a co-host on the award-winning, syndicated series The Doctors, a practicing board-certified family medicine physician, and sexologist. She is a pioneer of groundbreaking discussions about relationships, sex, health, abstinence, HIV/AIDS prevention and comprehensive sex education for teenagers across the U.S.