Barbecuing with friends and family is an enjoyable past time for many people. Occasionally, there will be an unwelcome guest that crashes the party and puts everyone a bit on edge. They are usually dressed in black and yellow stripes and don’t have a problem invading everyone’s personal space. Although it may sound like I’m describing that one awkward family member, the guest I’m referencing is a 6-legged flying insect that can pack quite a sting.
Many of the insects responsible for sting related reactions belong to the order Hymenoptera, which includes bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets. Being able to differentiate between them can be difficult, but understanding a few key characteristics can help with identification. Honeybees tend to be docile and only sting when provoked. This is important since they are vital to many agricultural industries. This is in opposition to the Africanized bee which is highly aggressive. Yellow jacket nests tend to be located in the ground and they can be seen flying around garbage cans or open soda cans. Take care around yellow jackets since they can be aggressive, especially around autumn time. Hornets typically build nests high up in trees or around homes. Hornets can be stimulated by vibrations which sets off a defensive sting behavior. Wasps can be identified by the narrowing around the abdomen and their dangling legs while in flight. Nests can also be found around human dwellings such as under eaves or inside walls
When most people are stung [Grab your reader’s attention with a great quote from the document or use this space to emphasize a key point. To place this text box anywhere on the page, just drag it.] they experience redness, swelling, and pain at the site of the sting. Fortunately, these reactions only require over the counter treatments and tincture of time. About 10% of people will have a more robust reaction where the affected area is quite large (>10cm) and symptoms can be present for over 1 week. The most concerning type of reaction related to stings is a systemic allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis. Symptoms in this category typically include a combination of generalized hives, flushing, swelling distant to the site of the sting, breathing changes, and feelings of passing out. Because there are many signs and symptoms of allergy, it is important to seek medical care if there is any concern after being stung.
For people who have had a concerning reaction after a sting, it is important to be evaluated by an Allergist who can perform venom allergy testing. Carrying an epinephrine autoinjector is also very important since this can be a life-saving medication for those experiencing anaphylaxis. Venom allergy testing involves a series of pokes and small injections with different insect venoms: Honeybee, Wasp, Yellow Jacket, Yellow Hornet, and White-Face Hornet. The purpose of testing is to determine what stinging insect(s) can illicit an allergic reaction with future stings.
For people who have an allergic reaction and positive venom testing, venom allergy shots are recommended. Although venom shots can last several years, the benefit is a significantly reduced rate of recurrent anaphylaxis. Not having to worry about anaphylaxis makes that unwelcome flying guest at your next barbecue more of an annoyance rather than a health concern!