Wasp Sting: What You Should Know

There are thousands of varieties of wasps; most are tiny and do not sting. These winged insects use their stingers for self-defense to protect themselves, their hive, or their colony if they view you as a threat.

When a wasp stings, its venom releases pheromones (a secreted chemical), which signal other wasps to join in the attack. Wasps can repeatedly sting, making them dangerous, especially in people who are sensitive or allergic to the venom.

This article explains wasp sting symptoms, treatments, and when to seek medical care.

A wasp caught in a glass

Fernando Trabanco Fotograffia/Getty Images

The most well-known and feared wasps in the U.S. are yellow jackets and hornets. These are social wasps, meaning they live in colonies and are known for their painful stings.

Symptoms

Wasp stings are similar to other insect stings. However, wasp stings can be more painful. Symptoms include:

Most people do not need medical attention when they are stung. However, if you were stung multiple times, the excess venom could cause you to feel nauseous, dizzy, lose consciousness, or have seizures. In addition, you may have a more severe or life-threatening reaction if allergic to wasp venom. Both of these situations require emergency medical care.

Signs of Allergic Reaction

Wasp venom can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Signs of an allergic reaction include:

In addition, anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, can occur without warning. Signs include those listed above, confusion, weakness, and a sense of pending doom. Always seek emergency medical care for any sign of an allergic reaction.

Between 2000 and 2017, 1,109 people died from hornet, wasp, and bee stings.

Treatment

As long you are not having a severe reaction, you can treat wasp stings at home. Treating wasp stings is similar to other insect stings and includes:

  • Cleaning the wound with soap and water
  • Icing the wound for 10 minutes, then off for 10 minutes (repeat as necessary)
  • Keeping the wound still to prevent the venom from spreading
  • Loosening clothing and removing jewelry in case of swelling
  • Giving an antihistamine, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), for itching and swelling

Unlike bees, wasps do not lose their stingers when they sting, so you won't have to pull out the stinger when treating it.

Wasp vs. Bee Sting

Often, people are unaware of the type of insect that stung them. However, there are some notable differences between bee and wasp stings.

Bee Sting
  • Releases more venom (up to 140 micrograms)

  • Leaves stinger behind

  • Often occurs near a beehive

  • Sting only once

Wasp Sting
  • Releases less venom (up to 3 micrograms)

  • Does not leave stinger behind

  • May occur in a random place

  • Can sting multiple times

Additionally, you can tell bees from wasps if you happen to see the insect that stung you. Bees are furry-looking and have a wide body with short legs. Wasps and hornets have skinny bodies, narrow waists, and are hairless.

Prevention

You can't always prevent run-ins with wasps. However, there are some steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of being stung, including:

  • Wearing light-colored clothing
  • Avoiding perfumes and scented beauty products
  • Avoiding excessive sweating
  • Wearing clothing that covers the skin
  • Steering clear of brush, logs, flowers, and trash

Remember that wasps release a pheromone to attract more wasps to sting. So if you are stung, leave the area right away. And if you have ever had a severe reaction to a bee or wasp sting, carry an EpiPen (epinephrine, a hormone used to treat anaphylaxis).

Severe Complications

Severe complications from wasp stings can include anaphylaxis and toxicity from the venom of multiple stings. If you were stung numerous times or show signs of an allergic reaction, seek emergency medical attention.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Most of the time, people recover from wasp stings with at-home care. Some situations indicate that you need medical attention, such as:

  • You were stung repeatedly
  • Your throat, lips, mouth, or tongue swell
  • You lose consciousness
  • You have trouble breathing
  • You develop hives
  • You become confused
  • You experience weakness
  • You have a sense of pending doom
  • Your wound gets worse rather than better

If you are unsure if your sting requires medical attention, contact a healthcare provider for guidance.

Summary

Wasp stings cause a painful, itchy welt. Since wasps can sting repeatedly, there is a risk of venom toxicity from multiple stings. Some people have severe allergic reactions to wasp venom. Usually, you can treat wasp stings at home. If you are stung repeatedly or develop anaphylaxis symptoms, seek emergency medical care.

A Word From Verywell

Like most people, you have a healthy fear of wasps. You can limit the chance of being stung by avoiding places wasps like to hang out, like near trash cans. If you are with someone who was stung, stay calm and get them inside to avoid more stings. Allergic reactions happen quickly, usually within minutes to an hour. Keep an eye out for swelling, hives, or breathing difficulty, and promptly seek medical care if these signs appear.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does a wasp sting hurt?

    Severe pain from a wasp sting can last a couple of hours. Swelling may last up to a week, which can cause additional discomfort.

  • What does a wasp sting look like?

    A wasp sting will appear as a red, raised welt with a puncture hole in the middle. Over time, the area may swell and look red or bruised.

  • How many times can a wasp sting?

    Unlike bees, wasps can sting repeatedly. When a wasp stings, its venom releases a pheromone, calling other wasps to the battle.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. National Library of Medicine. Wasp sting.

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  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quickstats: number of deaths from hornet, wasps, and bee stings, among makes and females—national vital statistics system.

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