Yellow jacket stings: What to do

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Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN
ellow jackets are stinging insects that
have yellow marks on their head and
body. Because of their coloring , people
commonly mistake them for bees.
Yellow jackets are the most common source of
stings in the United States.
In this article, we take a look at why yellow
jackets sting people and what people should do if
they do get stung.

Why do yellow jackets sting ?
Yellow jackets are by nature very territorial of
their colony and will typically sting because it is
being disturbed.

bee

If a person is very close to the insect’s nest –
even just a few feet away – the yellow jacket will
probably sting. As a result, yellow jackets are
perceived to be very aggressive.
Yellow jackets are also common visitors to
picnics, where they will try to feed on fruits and
picnic foods. If they feel threatened while trying
to feed, they will sting.
Yellow jackets tend to be problematic in late
summer and early fall when the insects that they
typically feed on become scarce. They usually do
not venture more than 1 mile from their nest to
look for food.
Yellow jackets start to build their nests in the
springtime. They live in large groups with
thousands of other yellow jackets. Yellow jackets
build their nests in various locations, including
trees, building eaves, hollow wall spaces, and in
children’s playground equipment.
Only female yellow jackets sting. The male
drones do not sting. According to the American
Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 95 percent
of all insect stings are from either a yellow
jacket or a bee.
Yellow jackets tend to sting children more often
than anyone else as they are often playing
outside.
Differences between bee stings and yellow
jacket stings
Both bees and yellow jackets have stings that
can be very painful. The way each insect stings
is slightly different.
Although most species of bees can retract their
stinger from human skin, they will only sting
once. The honeybee, however, is unable to
remove its stinger and will usually die after
stinging a person.
A yellow jacket has a smooth stinger, which
means that a yellow jacket can sting multiple
times, and as a result, the sting can be
especially painful. However, some species of
yellow jacket may leave their stinger in the skin.
Allergic reactions to yellow jacket stings
When a yellow jacket stings a person, it inserts
its stinger into the skin and injects venom. It is
this poison that causes a person to experience a
reaction. The venom also contains proteins that
can cause an allergic reaction.

child

Examples of reactions to a sting include:
Pain: The insect’s sting can cause pain,
itching, and burning. For those who experience
mild reactions, the pain usually lasts for 1 to 2
hours.
Redness: Stings can often cause a red, ring-
like reaction. The redness will last up to 3
days and does not necessarily represent an
infection.
Swelling: Bee stings can cause swelling that
lasts up to 2 days after the initial sting. The
swelling can vary based on the degree of
reaction as well as the location where a
person was stung.
For example, stings to the face tend to cause
more pronounced reactions and swelling than
stings elsewhere on the body.
While these reactions are painful, they do not
usually require a visit to the doctor or a trip to
the emergency room.
Anaphylactic reaction
Some people can sometimes experience a severe
and life-threatening reaction to a yellow jacket
sting, however. This is known as an anaphylactic
reaction.
This reaction will usually occur within 2 hours
after the person was stung. The main symptoms
are swelling of the airways, which can cause
difficulty breathing and swallowing.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If an adult
or child is experiencing this, someone should call
911 or seek emergency medical treatment.
If a person develops hives that cause swelling,
they should call their primary care physician or
child’s pediatrician, as this can lead to
anaphylaxis.
If a sting reaction gets worse over time instead
of better, a person should seek medical
treatment. Infection usually sets in about 24 to
48 hours after a person has been stung.
Doctors cannot always predict who will have a
strong adverse reaction to a yellow jacket sting.
According to some research, developing an
allergic reaction to yellow jacket stings does not
seem to run in families. About 30 percent of
those who experience a severe reaction to a
yellow jacket sting also have other allergies that
result in skin irritation.
It is possible that a person can be stung by a
yellow jacket once and not have a severe
reaction, yet have a severe reaction to a
subsequent sting.

Treatment
If a yellow jacket sting causes a mild reaction
that can be treated at home, there are several
steps a person can take. These include the
following steps:
cream

ellow jackets are stinging insects that
have yellow marks on their head and
body. Because of their coloring , people
commonly mistake them for bees.
Yellow jackets are the most common source of
stings in the United States.
In this article, we take a look at why yellow
jackets sting people and what people should do if
they do get stung.
Contents of this article:
Why do yellow jackets sting?
Differences between bee stings and yellow
jacket stings
Allergic reactions to yellow jacket stings
Treatment
Prevention tips
Why do yellow jackets sting ?
Yellow jackets are by nature very territorial of
their colony and will typically sting because it is
being disturbed.
A yellow jacket’s coloring means that it is
easily mistaken for a bee.
If a person is very close to the insect’s nest –
even just a few feet away – the yellow jacket will
probably sting. As a result, yellow jackets are
perceived to be very aggressive.
Yellow jackets are also common visitors to
picnics, where they will try to feed on fruits and
picnic foods. If they feel threatened while trying
to feed, they will sting.
Yellow jackets tend to be problematic in late
summer and early fall when the insects that they
typically feed on become scarce. They usually do
not venture more than 1 mile from their nest to
look for food.
Yellow jackets start to build their nests in the
springtime. They live in large groups with
thousands of other yellow jackets. Yellow jackets
build their nests in various locations, including
trees, building eaves, hollow wall spaces, and in
children’s playground equipment.
Only female yellow jackets sting. The male
drones do not sting. According to the American
Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 95 percent
of all insect stings are from either a yellow
jacket or a bee.
Yellow jackets tend to sting children more often
than anyone else as they are often playing
outside.
Differences between bee stings and yellow
jacket stings
Both bees and yellow jackets have stings that
can be very painful. The way each insect stings
is slightly different.
Although most species of bees can retract their
stinger from human skin, they will only sting
once. The honeybee, however, is unable to
remove its stinger and will usually die after
stinging a person.
A yellow jacket has a smooth stinger, which
means that a yellow jacket can sting multiple
times, and as a result, the sting can be
especially painful. However, some species of
yellow jacket may leave their stinger in the skin.
Allergic reactions to yellow jacket stings
When a yellow jacket stings a person, it inserts
its stinger into the skin and injects venom. It is
this poison that causes a person to experience a
reaction. The venom also contains proteins that
can cause an allergic reaction.
People who are stung on the face are more
likely to experience increased swelling.
Examples of reactions to a sting include:
Pain: The insect’s sting can cause pain,
itching, and burning. For those who experience
mild reactions, the pain usually lasts for 1 to 2
hours.
Redness: Stings can often cause a red, ring-
like reaction. The redness will last up to 3
days and does not necessarily represent an
infection.
Swelling: Bee stings can cause swelling that
lasts up to 2 days after the initial sting. The
swelling can vary based on the degree of
reaction as well as the location where a
person was stung.
For example, stings to the face tend to cause
more pronounced reactions and swelling than
stings elsewhere on the body.
While these reactions are painful, they do not
usually require a visit to the doctor or a trip to
the emergency room.
Anaphylactic reaction
Some people can sometimes experience a severe
and life-threatening reaction to a yellow jacket
sting, however. This is known as an anaphylactic
reaction.
This reaction will usually occur within 2 hours
after the person was stung. The main symptoms
are swelling of the airways, which can cause
difficulty breathing and swallowing.
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If an adult
or child is experiencing this, someone should call
911 or seek emergency medical treatment.
If a person develops hives that cause swelling,
they should call their primary care physician or
child’s pediatrician, as this can lead to
anaphylaxis.
If a sting reaction gets worse over time instead
of better, a person should seek medical
treatment. Infection usually sets in about 24 to
48 hours after a person has been stung.
Doctors cannot always predict who will have a
strong adverse reaction to a yellow jacket sting.
According to some research, developing an
allergic reaction to yellow jacket stings does not
seem to run in families. About 30 percent of
those who experience a severe reaction to a
yellow jacket sting also have other allergies that
result in skin irritation.
It is possible that a person can be stung by a
yellow jacket once and not have a severe
reaction, yet have a severe reaction to a
subsequent sting.
Treatment
If a yellow jacket sting causes a mild reaction
that can be treated at home, there are several
steps a person can take. These include the
following steps:
An over-the-counter cream can be used to
reduce swelling and discomfort.

Applying a steroid cream
Putting a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream onto
the sting site can help to reduce itching and
swelling. This medication is available over the
counter and should be applied three times a day.
Applying a paste to the sting
Make a paste by mixing water and meat
tenderizer powder. This powder contains
enzymes that can neutralize the yellow jacket’s
venom. As a result, pain and swelling will
decrease. Do not apply this paste near a
person’s eye.
Another option is to make a paste of baking
soda. Remove the paste after 20 minutes.
Applying cold
Rubbing a sting with an ice cube can help to
reduce pain, as can applying an ice pack.
However, always wrap the ice pack in a cloth to
protect the skin from damage.
Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever
Medications, such as acetaminophen or
ibuprofen, can help reduce the pain and
discomfort associated with a yellow jacket sting.
Taking a dose of diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
This medication can help to reduce hives or the
severe itching that can sometimes accompany a
yellow jacket sting.
Using an EpiPen
Severe allergic reactions are usually treated with
an injection of epinephrine, which can reverse
the effects of an allergic reaction. If a person
experiences serious allergic reactions, a doctor
will typically prescribe an epinephrine injector,
which is also known as an EpiPen. People should
carry this device with them at all times to reduce
the risk of having an allergic reaction.
Prevention tips
If a person does happen to come across a nest
of yellow jackets, they should cover their face
and walk away from the nest slowly. Fast
movements can attract more yellow jackets,
resulting in more stings.
To reduce the risk of a yellow jacket sting,
people should:
always maintain tight-fitting lids on trash cans
to prevent yellow jackets from taking up
residence
frequently empty trash cans and rinse them
out to prevent buildup from spilled food items
always serve beverages in covered cups with
straws when serving drinks outdoors
never leave out open soda cans or other drinks
that could attract yellow jackets
place ventilation screens over any windows
and door screens to ensure yellow jackets
cannot get into the home

People should also avoid squashing a yellow
jacket outdoors. When crushed, yellow jackets
emit a type of hormone that causes them to alert
other nearby yellow jackets to attack. Killing one
yellow jacket could lead to further stings.
Unfortunately, insect repellents will not work
against yellow jackets and other stinging insects.
If a person does come across a nest of yellow
jackets, they should contact a professional pest
control company to remove it.

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