What do they look like?
Why are they dangerous?
Around 5 to 12 people each year die from bee, wasp and hornet stings, according to the mortality statistics for England and Wales. For most people, bee, wasp and hornet stings are very painful, but not dangerous. Serious allergic reactions can occasionally occur, causing breathing difficulties, dizziness and a swollen face or mouth.
A wasp or hornet sting causes a sudden, sharp pain at first. A swollen red mark may then form on your skin, which can last a few hours and may be painful and itchy. Sometimes a larger area around the sting can be painful, red and swollen for up to a week. This is a minor allergic reaction that isn’t usually anything to worry about.
A bee sting feels similar to a wasp sting, but the sting will often be left in the wound. The sting can cause pain, redness and swelling for a few hours. As with wasp stings, some people may have a mild allergic reaction that lasts up to a week. For a few people, these stings can be extremely dangerous.
Anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction. Some people are allergic to wasp, bee and hornet stings and this can send them into anaphylactic shock.
Signs of anaphylactic shock:
- low blood pressure
- difficulty breathing
- swelling in face or mouth
- loss of consciousness
How can I avoid them?
Bees feed only on flowers and will not pester you for sugary foods. They die if they sting you, and the bees in Britain are gentle and never aggressive unless provoked.
Wasps are more readily aggressive than bees and they can sting multiple times without dying. They will take great interest in any sugary food or drinks you take outside with you. They will also be attracted to your perfumed shampoo, washing powder and make-up.
Hornets are essentially very large wasps. Their stings are extraordinarily painful and deliver far more venom than any bee or wasp in Britain.
- Never wave or flap your hands to try to swat these insects away, as this will only frighten them and make them far more likely to sting you in self defence.
- Wear light coloured clothing as bees and wasps are attracted to bright floral colours.
- Avoid perfumed soap and shampoo; also avoid perfume or aftershave – if you smell like a flower, they are likely to be attracted to you!
- Make sure your body and clothes are clean as sweat aggravates bees.
- Try avoiding going out in the warmest part of the day as this is when they are most active.
- Don’t leave food or drinks out as this also attracts them.
- If there are bees, wasps or hornets around, stay calm and use gentle movements.
- Don’t squash wasps as the odour released may attract other wasps.
What do I do if they sting me?
If you or someone with you has any symptoms you suspect may be anaphylactic shock, dial 999 for an ambulance immediately.
If you’ve been stung by a bee, the sting is likely to be left in your skin. You should remove it as soon as possible to prevent any more venom being released. Scrape it out sideways with something with a hard edge, such as a bank card, or your fingernails if you don’t have anything else to hand. If you use fine pointed tweezers, hold the stinger gently without squeezing or crushing it. Do not remove stingers with ordinary blunt-ended tweezers as they will squash them.
If you have been stung by a wasp, there will not be a stinger to remove.
Bee, wasp and hornet stings are usually painful for a couple of days, and then become itchy as they heal over the following week. Hold ice packs against the red area to relieve pain, and then later treat stings with antihistamine cream from the chemist if the itchiness bothers you. Avoid traditional home remedies, such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, as they’re unlikely to help and may cause further irritation to your skin.