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The real truth about wasp stings

If you have been seeing a large number of wasps around your home or if you have spotted a nest, the first thing you should do is call in the professionals. Ehrlich Pest Control has wasp removal and prevention services to get rid of and prevent wasps from returning.

A sting by a wasp or hornet is an unpleasant experience. It can be very upsetting and frightening for young children, and can also be stressful and very painful even for those who are not allergic to insect stings. Contact your local Ehrlich Pest Control office today.


Why do wasps sting?

The main reason wasps sting humans is because they feel threatened. A wasp sting is a defense mechanism as its venom delivers enough pain to convince large animals, and humans, to leave them alone. In the wild, wasps sting to catch their prey. Their venom is powerful enough to paralyze their prey, making for easier transport back to the nest.

There are two main reasons you might get stung by a wasp.

  • Protection –  Like most animals, if a female wasp feels her home is under attack or threatened she will protect the wasp nest with the only defense mechanism she has – her stinger.
  • Agitation – Wasps are like humans in some ways - they get annoyed. However, this is normally linked to them feeling threatened. The constant waving of arms while trying to get rid of a wasp can make it feel this way.
hornet stinging human hand

Do wasps die after they sting you?

Unlike bees, wasps do not die after they sting someone. In fact, they can sting multiple people, multiple times during their lifetime.

A wasp's stinger is not like a bee’s stinger. It is designed to be used again and again, striking the possible threat multiple times, and stabbing the intended prey or potential threat like a small needle. A bee's stinger is barbed at the end, which is why a bee will sting and then die. When the bee takes off, the stinger stays in the flesh of the prey and disembowels the bee. A wasp's stinger is smooth and does not stick in a person's flesh. It retracts into the body, able to extend over and over again.

Wasps will attack in large numbers. When a threat is detected, wasps release a pheromone that summons the rest of the soldier wasps. They will pursue a potential threat over long distances and swarm the threat, the entire time stinging repeatedly.

What does a wasp sting look like?

Wasp stings are packed full of venom, which is why they are so painful. Different people have different reactions and having one type of reaction doesn’t mean you’ll always have the same reaction every time you’re stung.

Though painful at first, you may not see much on the skin right away. There could be a small puncture wound and maybe a tiny dot of blood, but that's about it. However, the area can turn red and the actual sting area will likely swell. Once you see the raised welt, you may see a small white mark near the center. That's the spot where the stinger entered your skin.

The areas around the wound will be very painful to the touch and the entire area can become quite swollen based upon a person's threshold for pain and insect stings. Allergic reactions can cause severe swelling and other symptoms which can become very dangerous.

If you have been stung and find yourself having trouble breathing, or the pain is very intense, seek medical attention. Extreme swelling is also a potential sign of trouble and medical attention should be sought then, too.


The Schmidt pain index

When discussing wasp stings we have to mention the Schmidt Pain Index. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Schmidt Pain Index is a pain scale reflecting the stings caused by different insects, including wasps.

The Schmidt Pain Index was created by Justin O. Schmidt after subjecting himself to a range of different stings from different insects. It consists of his experience when suffering these painful stings, giving them a rating of pain (from 0-4), as well as a description and the duration. To sum up Schmidt’s Pain Index, “Level four you don’t want to know”.

Yellow jacket

  • Schmidt Index: 2.0
  • Pain duration: 10 minutes
  • Description: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent.

Paper wasp

  • Schmidt Index: 3.0
  • Pain duration: 5-10 minutes
  • Description: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

Tarantula hawk wasp

  • Schmidt Index: 4.0
  • Pain duration: 5 minutes
  • Description: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).
Tarantula hawk wasp

Wasp sting treatment

Mild and moderate reactions to wasp stings can be treated at home with a few simple remedies. We recommend consulting a medical professional for advice along with these tips below and to always follow the instructions on the label of any medication.

  • Clean the area - Wash the area with soap and water to remove as much of the venom as possible. Applying a medical disinfectant can also help.
  • Ice the area -  To help reduce the swelling, place an ice pack on the area. Depending on the reaction to the sting, you can place an ice pack on it for 10 minutes every hour.
  • If you have a severe allergic reaction to the wasp sting, call an ambulance and visit your local emergency room.

How long a wasp’s sting lasts depends on a person’s reaction to the sting. It may remain swollen or painful for several days on people who are sensitive to insect stings. For others, the wasp’s sting may disappear in as little as three days.

If there is intense pain or swelling for days, it is possible you could be experiencing an allergic reaction or perhaps some kind of infection. You should seek medical attention if the pain is intense for longer than a couple of days.

Allergic reactions

When people say they are allergic to bees, wasps, and/or hornets it is not the insect they are allergic to, but rather the venom in their sting.

Wasp stings can be life-threatening to people allergic to the poison in stings. This allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis. If you are allergic to wasp stings, make sure you carry your medication and seek medical attention right away if you are stung. Wasp stings can happen multiple times due to the nature of wasp stingers and how wasps attack. People who have been stung several times previously and have become sensitized are more likely to suffer this systemic reaction. The good news is that this type of allergic reaction is rare and rarely fatal.


Preventing wasp & hornet stings

If wasps feel threatened or if their nest is disturbed it makes them very aggressive and provokes them to sting. If you see a wasp nest, follow the tips below:

  • Do not approach a wasp’s nest during the day when they are the most active.
  • Maintain a safe distance as they will defend their territory at a larger distance than most bees.
  • Do not try to knock down or remove a wasp’s nest - save that for us, the professionals.

When do wasps sting?

Wasps sting people most frequently in the spring and summer due to how they behave during these seasons.

In the spring wasps hunt aphids, greenfly, and other insects to feed grubs in the nest. At this time wasps will only become aggressive if they think their nest or their young are under threat.

In late summer and early autumn wasps do not have any young to feed so they do not get any sugary secretions from them. This is when wasps seek fermenting fruit and sweet things and become more of a pest at picnics, barbecues, and outdoor meals in general.

Tips to avoid being stung

Luckily there are some easy, practical things you can do yourself to try and avoid being stung.

  1. Do not panic - If you find there are wasps nearby keep calm and move slowly away.
  2. Do not scream, flap your arms, or swat them - This will just agitate them and make them more aggressive.
  3. Avoid strong, sweet smells - Do not use highly perfumed fragrances, shampoos, or hair sprays.
  4. Avoid bright colors - Do not wear bright, bold floral patterns on clothes and bags. Patterns like this can attract wasps.
  5. Avoid orchards - Soft fruit plants and even uncovered bins of fruit attract hungry wasps.
  6. Avoid open drinks - If drink cans or bottles are left unattended, it may encourage wasps to crawl inside.
  7. Cover food and drinks - Always keep food and drinks covered when eating outdoors.
  8. Stay clean - Ensure children’s hands and faces are cleaned after eating sweet foods/drinks.

If you are having a problem with wasps around your home or business then don’t try dealing with it on your own. Instead, call your local Ehrlich Technician for reliable wasp removal and prevention service.

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