Treating Bee, Wasp and Hornet Stings – Know the Difference

This summer while rafting the Salmon River in Idaho, my youngest daughter stepped on a bald-faced hornet—and her misstep did not end well for either the hornet or my child. After realizing why she was screaming bloody murder, and then identifying the culprit, I immediately began recalling what I learned about insect stings from when I lived in the Amazon and worked as a jungle guide.

First, I remembered that not all stings are treated in the same way since some insects have alkaline venom while others have acidic venom. Knowing who injects which poisons is key to treatment and pain alleviation. So, let me share with you my home remedy guide to basic stings:

For Hornet and Wasp Stings:

OUCH! You, or someone with you, has been stung. First try to identify the culprit, and second, if the stinger is still embedded in soft tissue, remove it as soon as possible. Tweezers, a needle, a credit card or fingernails can be used to scrape/pop out that venom-laced mini-dagger. Try not to “pinch” the stinger as that can cause more venom to be released. Then wash the area with soap and water, if available.

Most insects under the category of hornets and wasps possess powerful alkaline venom. Thus, the best home treatment is something powerfully acidic such as white vinegar. The acid will neutralize the alkaloid, which may ring a bell if you were paying attention in high school chemistry class. Apply the vinegar by first directly pouring a small amount on the sting.  Relief may be nearly immediate. For continued application, which may be needed, soak a thin cloth or bandage with the vinegar and leave on the sting for 15 minutes or until the pain has subsided.

If the pain reappears, as it often does minutes to hours later, just repeat the remedy. In addition to the vinegar treatment, I also gave my daughter a homeopathic remedy called Apis mellifica.

If you are backpacking, rafting or otherwise going to be in the great outdoors, I advise adding a a little vial of white vinegar to your first aid medical kit.

For Yellow Jacket and Bee Stings:

Most insects in this category have acidic venom and therefore need an alkaloid, such as baking soda to neutralize the venom. The easiest way to apply the baking soda is by making a paste by adding a bit of water. Cover the sting site with the paste for 5 to 15 minutes. Reapply as needed. Again, I recommend adding a little vial of baking soda in medical kits, so it is on hand when needed. Additionally, wet chamomile tea bags or a chamomile tincture are both effective at soothing the skin post-sting and after/between the baking soda treatments. The homeopathic remedy Apis mellifica is also effective for yellow jacket and bee stings.

For all insect stings, ice is also recommended to cool the skin, if available. Of course, all of the above home remedies can be complimented with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and over-the-counter antihistamines.

When to Seek Emergency Care:

The above home remedies are fine and good when the body’s reaction is mild, but according to WebMD, if any of the following severe symptoms emerge, seek medical care immediately, as they could be life-threatening (anaphylaxis):

  • Difficulty Breathing or Wheezing
  • Feeling of Dizziness or Faintness
  • Tightness in Throat
  • Hives
  • A Swollen Tongue
  • A history of severe allergic reaction to insect strings
  • Nausea, abdominal pain or vomiting
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Severe skin reaction

If you plan to be in an area without quick access to emergency care like we were in the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return in Idaho, consider taking an EPI Pen, which requires a doctor prescription, but can save lives. In fact, while being an Amazon jungle guide, the one time I was confronted with a life and death situation was not with snakes, pirahnas or jaguars, but with a simple bee sting. The person who had been stung had a an EPI Pen in her backpack and it saved her life as we were a five-hour boat ride from the nearest medical services.

If you know of other home remedy treatments for insect stings that work please share in the comment section below.

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151 comments

Chrissie R
Chrissie R12 months ago

Either means a trip to the ER for me....

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Danuta W
Danuta Wabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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natasha p
Past Member about a year ago

ty

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Nimue Pendragon

Valuable info, ty :)

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Joy T.
Joy T3 years ago

Wet moss or wet tree lichen. Until you can get to something better. It really does help.

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Melanie St. Germaine

Vinegar is an awesome multi-use product!

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Melanie St. Germaine

Vinegar is an awesome multi-use product!

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Tony L.
Away L3 years ago

TY for this! Most useful!

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Amy Thompson
Amy Thompson3 years ago

What a fantastic article! I'm definitely sharing this one! TYSM:)

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