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Yellow jackets are wasps that account for most stinging cases in the United States. They are considered to be quite aggressive, but they usually do not sting unless they are physically threatened or suspect their nest to be in danger.
Yellow jacket’s sting can be quite painful, but the discomfort usually subsides with simple home treatment.
But if the victim is allergic to wasp sting, the body will mount a more systemic response to counter the threat. Such severe reactions may or may not present extreme symptoms, but they run the risk of turning deadly.
Thus, if you are allergic to insect sting or suspect any such allergies, it is important to seek professional medical help after getting stung.
First Aid for a Yellow Jacket Sting
If you get stung by a yellow jacket, this is what you should immediately do to control the inflammatory reaction: (1)
1. Disinfecting the wound
Gently wash the sting site with cool water to bring down the swelling, and use an antiseptic soap or solution to avoid infection.
2. Neutralizing the venom
Mix an enzyme-based meat tenderizer with water, and apply it to the wound for 10–15 minutes to offset the venom.
If you are out of meat tenderizer, you can gently rub onion slices over the stung area to neutralize the venom. This technique is not scientifically proven, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it works.
3. Elevation and icing to relieve inflammation
Make a cold compress by wrapping some ice or a bag of frozen vegetables in a washcloth or towel. Place this cold pack on the sting site for 10 minutes, remove it for about a minute, and then place it again for another 10 minutes.
This break between icing is necessary, because prolonged application of freezing-cold temperature at a specific spot can cause tissue damage and can even lead to frostbite.
Moreover, if you were stung in any of the limbs, keep it raised above the heart level while applying the cold compress. This elevation helps redirect blood flow from the limb toward the heart due to the force of gravity.
As a result, the accumulated inflammatory fluid disperses from the sting site and swelling automatically goes down.
Caution: Never apply ice or freezing packs directly to your skin for prolonged periods as it can lead to frostnip or frostbite. Always wrap ice or freezing packs in a washcloth or towel, and each application should not be more than 10 minutes at a stretch.
Over-the-Counter Drugs for Symptomatic Relief
If first-line treatment fails to address your discomfort, you can use the following medications for added relief:
- Oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl, to control the inflammatory reaction that is responsible for most of your symptoms
- Topical ointments, such as 1% hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion/calendula cream, to reduce itching
- Pain medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, to make the sting site hurt less
- EpiPen or an epinephrine injection, an emergency intervention administered on the way to the hospital to keep a severe allergic reaction from turning into a deadly anaphylactic shock
Home Remedies for a Yellow Jacket Sting
Try these simple remedies.
1. Topical vinegar
Yellow jackets contain mostly alkaline toxins in their sting, along with slight traces of acid. Therefore, applying an acidic agent such as vinegar to the wound can help neutralize the alkaline venom to curb the inflammatory reaction.
But you must act fast for this remedy to work. If the venom is already absorbed deep into the tissue, topical vinegar is unlikely to have any positive effect.
Based on anecdotal evidence, topical vinegar may also help relieve itching, there is no research to back this claim. You may use any vinegar for this remedy, but apple cider vinegar is the most recommended option.
How to use:
- Dilute 1 part vinegar with 3 parts water, and apply the mixture to the wound using a cotton ball.
- You can also mix 1 part enzyme-based meat tenderizer to your mixture, which will also help to neutralize the venom.
Caution: Undiluted vinegar is too harsh for your skin in general, especially when using it on a wound or cut. Thus, applying it to your sting site will further damage your skin and exacerbate your discomfort.
Honey exhibits significant antiseptic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties (2) that can help treat a yellow jacket sting.
The venom of this wasp triggers the release of a chemical called histamine at the sting site, which causes localized tissue inflammation. This inflammation is responsible for the onset of itching, swelling, and redness in and around the wound.
Honey can help inhibit the release of histamine to ease these inflammatory symptoms. Moreover, honey works as a natural disinfectant that helps kill the germs and microbes present at the wound site to avoid infections.
Raw, organic, locally produced honey should be your first choice for this remedy, followed by medical-grade honey.
How to use:
- Apply 1 tablespoon of honey to the sting, and leave it for about 20 minutes before rinsing it off with plain tepid water.
- Turmeric is another natural anti-inflammatory agent that can be mixed with honey for added relief. Mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric in 1 tablespoon of honey to form a paste, and apply it to the sting for 20–30 minutes before washing it off with plain water.
3. Aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel is readily absorbed in the stung tissue where it works as an anti-inflammatory agent to inhibit the release of histamine and ease the inflammation caused by it. This helps reduce the swelling, pain, itching, and redness around the sting site.
Moreover, aloe vera gel contains chemical compounds called salicylates, which exhibit strong antimicrobial properties. Thus, applying aloe gel to the wound site can help kill the germs present there and ward off any infections. (3)
How to use: Apply 1 tablespoon of aloe vera gel on the sting site, and leave it to dry. Rinse it off with plain water.
4. Activated charcoal
The use of activated charcoal for treating a yellow jacket sting is anecdotal and does not have scientific backing. It rests on the fact that activated charcoal absorbs the toxins of the venom to reduce pain and swelling. (4)
How to use:
- Take a regular Band-Aid and rub a damp charcoal tablet on the sticky side until it becomes entirely black. Apply the Band-Aid over the sting site.
- Empty the contents of 2–3 charcoal capsules into a small bowl and mix it with some water to make a thick paste. Apply it to the affected area for a few hours, and then wash it off with plain water.
5. Oatmeal and Epsom salt
How to use:
- Oatmeal remedy – Add some water to ground oatmeal and mix them to make a paste. Apply the paste over the swollen, itchy skin, and let it sit for about 15 minutes before rinsing it off with room-temperature water.
- Epsom salt remedy – Mix ½ cup of Epsom salt in 1 gallon of bathwater, and soak in it for about 15–20 minutes to relieve the itching and swelling.
6. Plantain leaves
There is no scientific research to support the use of plantain leaves for treating insect stings, but this remedy does carry some anecdotal merit.
Various users reported experiencing a slight decrease in their sting-induced pain and swelling after trying this remedy. This therapeutic effect can be traced back to the anti-inflammatory properties of plantain leaves. (6)
How to use:
- Take a handful of freshly plucked plantain leaves from a healthy plant and wash them thoroughly.
- Crush the leaves to form a paste and gently apply it over the stung area.
- Alternatively, you can apply plantain-based ointments on your wound, which are easily available on the market.
Note: Always conduct a patch test before trying out a new topical remedy to rule out any allergies or sensitivities.
7. Tobacco paste
Tobacco has been used topically for curbing the itch and swelling triggered by a wasp sting, but only some users registered relief, while others showed no improvement.
This remedy is purely anecdotal with no scientific research to confirm its mechanism or effectiveness. But topical tobacco is not known to cause any adverse side effects, so there’s no harm in trying this remedy. Even if you don’t see any improvement, you won’t suffer any damage as well. (7)
How to use: Mix a few drops of water in tobacco to make a thick paste, and apply it to your sting site.
Self-Care Measures to Cope With a Yellow Jacket Sting
Follow these self-care measures after getting stung by a yellow jacket:
- The venom released by a yellow jacket under the skin contains certain chemicals called pheromones, which attract other such wasps to attack the same site. Therefore, you must immediately seclude yourself in a safe space after getting stung by a yellow jacket to avoid getting stung by others.
- Resist the urge to scratch the sting site since the friction can rupture your skin and invite infections. Also, your nails and fingers carry a lot of dirt and germs that can get transferred onto the wound, paving the way for infection.
- Keep the wound covered, preferably with a bandage.
- If getting stung triggers an anxiety attack, simply lie down and breathe deeply to calm yourself down.
- Get a tetanus shot every 10 years.
- You can apply cold tea bags to the wound to relieve itching.
Some Preventive Measures to Avoid Getting Stung
Here are some useful tips to protect yourself from a yellow jacket wasp, especially during summer season when they are most active:
- If a yellow jacket lands on you, stay calm and wait for it to fly away. Any sudden action to shoo it away will be perceived as a threat and prompt the wasp to sting you.
- Smashing a yellow jacket will release pheromones from its body into the air, which will draw more of them to the site and increase your risk of getting stung.
- Yellow jackets are drawn to protein and sugar, so it’s best to keep your food covered when eating outside during wasp season. For the same reason, you must keep your kitchen trash covered in a bin or a bag.
- Don’t go barefoot if bees are around.
- Be careful about stepping on yellow jackets or disturbing their nests when visiting parks, gardens, orchards, or other areas with a lot of foliage.
- Spraying insecticide or smoke on the yellow jackets will not repel them but will make them even more aggressive.
- Strong fragrances and bright colors attract yellow jackets, so it’s best to avoid wearing them when going to areas with possible wasp infestations.
- Don’t go near hives and nests. If there’s a hive or nest close to your home, get it removed by a professional instead of doing it yourself.
- People with diagnosed or suspected insect sting allergies should always carry a bee sting kit with them.
- If you spot many yellow jackets at one place, leave at once for there must be a nest nearby.
- Install ventilation screen over your home windows to keep the wasps out, especially during summers.
Most-Asked Questions About Yellow Jacket Sting
Does topical aspirin help treat a yellow jacket sting?
Research regarding the topical use of aspirin for treating yellow jacket stings has produced conflicting results.
One study found it to be largely ineffective in neutralizing the wasp venom while also increasing skin redness. (8) At the same time, some users have reported positive results after using this remedy.
Can applying baking soda or white toothpaste on a yellow jacket sting reduce its symptoms?
Baking soda and white toothpaste are commonly used for treating bee stings, but they are largely ineffective against yellow jacket stings.
Bee venom contains formic acid, which renders it quite acidic. The alkaline nature of baking soda and toothpaste help neutralize the acidic toxins in bee sting to provide instant relief.
The venom released by yellow jackets, on the other hand, is alkaline due to the presence of alkaline phosphatase in it. (9) Baking soda and white toothpaste are alkaline, too, and therefore have no effect on the wasp venom.
Diluted vinegar may work better in this regard due to its inherent acidity, which offsets the alkalinity of the yellow jacket venom.
A yellow jacket sting can be quite a painful experience, but it’s usually nothing to get worked up about. The treatment will depend on the severity of the reaction.
If you only exhibit mild to moderate symptoms, simple first aid and home remedies should be enough to achieve a full recovery within a week. But if the discomfort becomes unbearable or progressively worsens, you must consult a doctor immediately.
People who are allergic to insect sting are more likely to suffer an extreme or systemic reaction that can turn into anaphylactic shock. Such high-risk individuals should be extra careful during wasp season and consult a physician if they do get stung.
Some people may be allergic but don’t know it yet. It is therefore important to educate yourself about the warning signs of anaphylaxis so that you can get emergency help if it happens. Delayed response in such cases can lead to organ failure and even death.