Pest Guides

Preventing and Treating Insect Stings

Protecting you and your family from stinging insects

Insect stings are uncomfortable and can often be distressing, particularly if suffering from several stings. However, the risks of being stung can be managed by destroying wasp nests in or near the home and taking some basic precautions when outdoors.

Allergies to Insect Stings

Some people are much more sensitive to insect stings than others, although young children tend to be particularly sensitive. 

Honey Bee

However, the key group at risk is the three percent of the population who are allergic to the poison in stings. An allergy to insect stings can develop at any time, even if one has not reacted to a previous wasp or bee sting.

Symptoms may include fainting, dizziness, nausea or difficulty in breathing or swallowing. Call an ambulance immediately if someone has a severe reaction to an insect sting.

Differences between Insect Stings and Insect Bites

Insect stings should not be confused with insect bites. An insect uses its’ sting as a form of defense when it perceives a threat either to itself or its’ colony. It stings by injecting poison into or under the skin. The effect is immediate and results in a sharp, burning sensation.

While a sting is used as a form of defense, insects bite to draw blood. To give the insect time to feed, insect bites have evolved so that the pain is not as sharp as a sting (although the bite of a horse fly is very painful).

Insect Stings

The most common insects that sting are wasps (including hornets) or bees. Wasps are the most aggressive and may sting with little provocation.

Social Wasp

Bees are much less likely to sting, most commonly stinging when they are stood or sat on. The key sign of a bee sting is that it leaves its stinger lodged inside the skin and a venomous sac will continue to pump poison for more than a minute.

In contrast, the only sign of a hornet or wasp sting is likely to be a small puncture hole. Once stung by a wasp or bee, the area around the sting will quickly redden and a raised weal (fluid under the skin) will form. The weal will reduce after a few hours, but it may remain itchy for more than a day.

Treating an insect sting

Practical steps that can be taken if you have been stung by a wasp or bee:

If stung by a bee, the pain will be reduced significantly if the stinger is removed promptly. This should be done carefully using sharp fingernails, tweezers or a knife. However, take great care not to squeeze the sting sac as this will inject more poison into the wound. Wash the wound with soap and water and then reduce swelling by bathing in cold water or by covering it with a cold compress such as ice in a cloth (but never hold ice directly on the skin).

To relieve itching, apply an anti-histamine cream for bites and stings or take an oral anti-histamine tablet (a “hayfever tablet”). Calamine lotion can also be applied to cool the wound and ease the itch. If the itching is severe, consult your pharmacist about steroid creams.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction

For those with a moderate allergy to stings, there may be more general swelling around the wound. Consult your doctor if the swelling is severe or persistent.

Call an ambulance immediately if any of the following symptoms are seen within 30 minutes of a sting:

  • Swelling around the throat, mouth or tongue that could constrict breathing
  • Wheezing, choking or an inability to catch breath
  • Fainting, dizziness or headaches
  • Any chest pains
  • Nausea or stomach cramps

Remember, allergies to wasp or bee stings can develop at any time. Those stung on two or more occasions in previous years are at higher risk from developing an allergy.

Another group at high risk are those who suffer from other allergies (such as to pollen or pets).

Preventing insect stings

People who are sensitive to insect stings should take care to minimise the risk of being stung, but there are practical steps that we can all take to avoid being stung when outdoors:

  • Avoid wearing bright colours and strong scents such as perfumes and deodorants as these attract insects
  • Wear long sleeves, trousers, footwear or hats to reduce exposed skin
  • Use insect repellent sprays on exposed skin
  • Use insect repelling products or candles
  • Avoid leaving sweet drinks and foods exposed
  • Look out for bees before sitting, lying or resting
  • Avoid areas where wasps cluster such as orchards\
  • Wear gloves if picking fallen fruit from the ground

Never try to swat wasps or bees. This will increase the likelihood of being stung and may excite a swarm.

Do not wave your arms and try not to panic as this will also excite the insect. If you enter an area with many stinging insects, walk calmly and slowly away.

Stinging Insects in the Home or Garden

A wasp trapped indoors can be dealt with using a Wasp & Fly Killer spray. However, bees are beneficial to the environment and should not be killed. If there are high numbers of wasps or bees in your home or garden, it is likely there is a nest nearby.

It is important to deal with a bee and wasp nest as early as possible. Wasps become more aggressive in late summer and it is much safer to deal with them earlier in the year.

Rentokil offers advice on the use of DIY products or our professional service to take care of wasp nests quickly and effectively.

Find out more in our wasps and bees section or contact us.