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Allergic Reactions to Wasp Stings

Allergic Reactions to Wasp Stings

Allergic reactions to wasp stings can be deadly.  In fact, insect stings claim 40-100 lives every year in the United States. Some experts believe that these statistics are grossly underestimated arguing that the number of deaths is actually much higher. [1]

Of all poisonous stings occurring in the U.S., Hymenoptera stings from wasps, bees, and ants account for the greatest number of deaths and medical problems. [2] While most wasp stings will usually only produce a minor localized reaction, some may cause serious or life-threatening reactions. You’re most likely to have a serious wasp sting reaction if you’re stung multiple times or have an immune system that’s overly sensitive or allergic to the wasp venom. The location of the sting can also be a factor in how severe the wasp sting affects you.

Local Reactions

This wasp sting reaction only affects the area near where you were stung. You may have the following medical symptoms:

  • Immediate redness, swelling, pain, and itching
  • Redness and swelling may become over 4 inches wide over the next 36 hours
  • Bacterial skin infection

Systemic or Allergic Reactions

This type of reaction is a serious medical issue that affects body parts away from the wasp sting site. Multiple stings and a history of wasp allergy increase your danger for an allergic reaction. However, a serious or fatal allergic reaction can occur from just a single sting and/or without any known prior allergic reaction. [3] Since most deaths from allergic reactions to wasp stings occur within the first hour, it’s important to seek immediate emergency medical care if any of the following occurs after a wasp sting: [4]

  • Hives and wide-spread itching
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Mouth and/or throat swelling
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Anxiety
  • Weakness or faint feeling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Unconsciousness
  • Difficulty speaking

High Risk Groups

If you are an elderly person; small child; have an already weakened immune system; or have a history of allergic reaction to insect venom, especially wasp venom, then you’re at the greatest risk of having a serious reaction. If you’re stung in the mouth or throat, just a single sting may cause swelling that could obstruct your airway. [5]

When to Seek Medical Attention

Most stings are treatable from home. Seek medical attention if you experience any signs of an allergic reaction or if you have a known allergy to wasp venom. You should also seek medical attention if the following factors are present:  [6]

  • Signs of infection occur (drainage, pus, bite area larger than 10 inches across, fever, or general localized reaction symptoms persisting over two days)
  • Throat, eyes, ears, or mouth stings
  • More than ten stings have occurred


[1] Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Emergency Treatment and Prevention of Insect-Sting Anaphylaxis
2006. Volume: 6. No: 4. Pages: 279-283

[2] Mealie, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Carl A. “Wasp Stings.” eMedicine. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Dec. 2010. <>.

[3] [5] [6]
Bee and Wasp Stings

[4] Journal of Clinical Pathology, Pumphrey RS
Postmortem findings after fatal anaphylactic reactions
2000. Volume: 53. No: 4. Pages: 273-276

Conrad Stoppler MD, Melissa. “Bee Sting Treatment.” N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Dec. 2010.

“Bee and Wasp Stings Treatment: First Aid Information for Bee and Wasp Stings.” First Aid Guide and Emergency Treatment Instructions . N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2010.

Glossary of Terms

Anaphylaxis: is a severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical that has become an allergen.
Medscape Plus

Hymenoptera: the “membrane-winged” insects, include bees, ants, and a large number of other insect taxa collectively referred to as wasps.
University of California Museum of Paleontology

Localized reaction:  A reaction that occurs at the point of entrance of an infecting organism or of an injection.

Systemic reaction: affecting the body generally.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Expert Opinion

“Although many different types of insects in the United States are able to inflict a poisonous bite or sting (meaning they are venomous), the insects most likely to cause medical problems are bees (including the domestic honey bee, its Africanized “killer bee” race, and the bumble bee), wasps (including paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets), and ants (including the fire ant).”

Marion Berg, MD   Bee and Wasp Stings

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