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Preventing and treating yellow jacket and wasp stings

Preventing and treating yellow jacket and wasp stings

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Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY -- You may have seen a 1963 movie titled “The Birds.” It’s a Hitchcock movie that did for birds what “Jaws” did for swimming in the ocean. Imagine walking outside and being swarmed by nature’s winged little nasties, each with full intent on pecking your eyes out and making you die a doleful death.

There is nothing in nature that really does that, but certain types of wasps can take a close second. No matter where you live, you have probably noticed their nests. Paper wasps will make a neighborhood in your walls, your chimney, your electrical box or even in the swingset.

Bees are often blamed for most stings, but about 90% of all stings are likely caused by yellowjackets. -USU Extension

Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service reports indicate that there are a variety of wasps that have no problem with stinging you. These include paper wasps, yellow jackets and baldfaced hornets. Other wasps like mud daubers are more peaceful but will sting if threatened. According to the Utah State University extension office, bees are often blamed for stings but about 90 percent of all stings are likely caused by yellow jackets.

Let’s paint a picture: It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and a gentle summer breeze rolls past your face feeling like satin. You think you might perhaps stay out for a while then have a summer barbeque. The lemonade in your hands is fresh-squeezed by your butler, maid or spouse and you’re entirely ready for an afternoon of bliss. You set up a lawn chair and settle in to the exquisiteness that is your glorious afternoon.

But the local yellow jackets smell your lemonade and would like you to share it. One wants to be your neighbor, then two. You can’t swat them away enough. They keep coming. Soon the swats get violent and you start to rock your chair. This disturbs a nest of paper wasps inside your chair and they buzz on out looking for the problem. From their point of view, looks like the problem might be you.

Sting Reaction and Treatment
If stung, most people will only experience a mild local reaction with redness, pain, swelling and itching at the sting site. For people with a normal sting reaction, the following treatments may be useful:
  • Ice
  • Baking Soda
  • Ammonia Solution (1-2.5% solution)
  • Oral Antihistamines
  • Epinephrine Inhaler
  • Topical Steroids
  • Local Anesthetics
  • Oral Steroids (prescription only)
If symptoms are more serious, a physician should be consulted. - USU Extension

Surrender flag now up, you abandon your chair and lemonade to the cutthroat creatures. Dejected, you sit on a swing on your children’s playset to contemplate what might have been. What you don’t know is that you have now raised the ire of wasps inside the playset’s metal bars. The come out looking as big and bad as a one-inch critter can get. It seems you have ruined their summer day. Exasperated, you give up and walk into the home, but not before noticing that even more wasps have their front door in the walls of your home. These excellent little creatures have a front door right near yours and are getting in via a gap around the door frame. Oh and yes, they will take the right-of-way, thank you.

So what to do about the little varmints? Two words: prevention and treatment.

Prevention will involve a trip to your favorite hardware store. Get some bug zap spray, the variety that shoots at least 20 feet. While at the store, get some expanding foam insulation and/or caulk. Use these materials to fill holes large and small around your home. Check your eaves and look for anywhere that you might live if you were 1/4-inch wide.

Stings can be treated by first washing the sting site and applying an ice pack to minimize swelling. Then apply baking soda and meat tenderizer in a water paste to reduce venom spread and swelling. Finally, take an antihistamine to reduce the swelling and allergic response. If you have serious reactions (dizziness, asthma, nausea, blood pressure drop), you could potentially have a life-threatening reaction. If so, see a doctor immediately.

It is possible to have your backyard back and live peacefully with bees and wasps. To control wasp populations, remember not to leave food out, including dog food. Keep your garbage can lid closed, and seal holes and gaps on the exterior of your home.

Garth Haslem is an experienced home inspector, author and structural engineer. To read the blog or get a free ebook, please visit To be notified of other articles and blogs, follow Garth on Twitter at


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