Caring for Summer Stings

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Picture yourself enjoying a pleasant day outdoors. You stumble across a hornet, bee, yellow jacket or wasp, and you get stung. Now what? For most people a sting is just painful, but for a few, it can be lifethreatening. After any sting it would be normal for you to experience pain or burning, redness, and swelling at the site of the sting. Pain or burning usually lasts for 1-2 hours. Then the pain should slowly get better and is followed by itching. Redness and swelling can worsen for up to 24 hours after the sting but should then start to get better. Redness will often go away after 3 days, and swelling will often go away after 7 days.

To care for any bee sting, you should first remove the stinger if it is visible (only honeybees leave their stinger). Stingers look like a tiny black dot and can often be removed with tweezers, scotch tape, or you can scrape it out with a credit card or butter knife. If you are not able to remove the stinger, it will come out on its own as your skin sheds. Next, use a cold compress for 20 minutes and repeat as needed. This will reduce pain and swelling to the sting. You can also make a paste from meat tenderizer or baking soda and apply it to the site for pain relief. This defuses the venom, but should only be applied one time to any sting. For further pain relief, you can take Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, or any other over-the-counter pain relief medication. To help with itching, the Nurseline suggests you take an antihistamine such as Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, or use Hydrocortisone Cream.

Most stings will not need further treatment. On the other hand, if within 2 hours of the sting you develop any wheezing, trouble breathing, hoarseness or cough, tightness in your throat or chest, a swollen tongue, widespread hives with itching, facial swelling, vomiting or abdominal pain, you should call 9-1-1 and seek medical help right away. These can be signs of a life threatening allergic reaction. If you have a known allergic reaction to bee stings, you may have been prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen), and you should keep this with you at all times. One quick jab to the thigh helps slow down the allergic reaction, but using the pen is often not enough. You should still seek medical help for observation and further treatment if needed. You should also seek medical attention if you are stung by a swarm of bees, lose consciousness, are stung inside the mouth or on the eye, or if you obtain more than 50 stings. Bee stings rarely get infected, but if you have any signs of infection that start 24 hours after the sting, then you may need to follow up with your doctor. The signs of infection to watch for are fever, increase in redness, increase in pain, red streaks, swelling greater than four inches, or drainage from the site of the sting.

By: Rhonda Tanner, MSN, MHA, BSN, RN