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How to Treat Hornet Stings

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/25/2010

Most insect bites and stings are irritating, and some are painful – but hornet stings in particular can really hurt! Read this article to learn how to treat hornet stings in a way that minimizes the pain of the sting.

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    What makes the Hornet Sting so Painful?

    The hornet sting is particularly painful because unlike bees, a hornet can sting repeatedly. This is because hornet stingers do not have barbs, and the stinger can therefore be withdrawn without harming the insect. The hornet can therefore sting multiple times, injecting more venom each time.

    The venom causes swelling, pain, redness, and itching at the site of the sting. The more times a person is stung, the worse the symptoms can become.

    A non-allergic person can safely withstand a large number of hornet stings –approximately ten stings per pound of body weight. Incredibly, a healthy non-allergic adult could theoretically sustain more than one thousand stings. The case is entirely different for an allergic person, however, as in the case of allergy just one sting can be deadly.

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    How to Treat Hornet Stings to Minimize the Pain

    • Hornets are unlikely to leave a stinger behind due to the absence of barbs, but if this does occur, removing the stinger should be the first step in treating the wound.
    • Next, wash the wound with soap and water. Then apply a small amount of meat tenderizer to the wound. Meat tenderizer contains substances that are capable of breaking down the venom – this helps to minimize the pain and other effects of the venom.
    • Apply ice wrapped in a cloth in ten minute intervals – ten minutes on, then ten minutes off, then another ten minutes on.
    • Take an anti-histamine tablet to reduce itching. Alternative, apply some anti-histamine cream to the wound after the ice has been applied.

    Infection of the wound is rare, but can occur occasionally. Signs of infection include swelling, pain, and redness that worsen over the course of a few days. Seek medical attention if the wound becomes infected.

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    What to do in case of Allergy

    Learning how to treat hornet stings is particularly important for people who know or suspect they might have an allergy to this type of sting. Even if you don’t know that you are allergic, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of a hornet sting allergy. Getting immediate treatment for an allergic reaction is essential.

    Symptoms of a dangerous allergic reaction include the following:

    • Difficulty breathing. This might include shortness of breath or wheezing.
    • Facial swelling
    • Feeling of tightness in the throat, or difficulty swallowing
    • Feeling of weakness or faintness
    • Turning blue
    • Decreased level of consciousness
    • Rash

    Immediate emergency medical attention is needed in the case of an allergic reaction. If the person having the reaction has a known allergy, he or she might have an epinephrine dose or another emergency medication which can be given to reduce the severity of the allergic symptoms.

    In the event of an allergic reaction, call 911 immediately, and be ready to use CPR if necessary. Items such as a watch, rings, and necklaces, should be removed, as they might cause constriction if swelling occurs.

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    References

    Merck Manual, Home Edition: Bee, Wasp, Hornet, and Ant Stings.

    National Institute of Health MedlinePlus: Insect Bites and Stings

    Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Paper Wasps and Hornets

    University of Maryland Medical Center: Insect bites and stings - Overview