What to do if you get stung by an insect

Singing Gardener: Plus, a reader shares her experiences with hummingbirds

This photo taken in April 2021 is a female Anna’s hummingbird enjoying apple blossoms.

It was the third ring on my telephone when I picked it up and answered. A woman with an anxious-sounding voice on the other end said, “Hi Ted, this is Marlene. I just got stung by a wasp or a bee — not sure which. I was outside folding towels that had dried in open-air sunshine and was about to bring them in. Don’t know where the insect came from. It might have been on one of the towels. What home remedies have you got to treat the bite area?”

After attempting to calm her a little and out of concern for any swelling, I asked whether the bite area was anywhere close to her neck or throat and if she had considered going to emergency. “No! I haven’t seen the doctor. The bite is on my left forearm just above the elbow crease below the shoulder. But it’s angry red and sure swollen, burning and painful.” No need to remind my readers, but here it is midsummer — just a couple of weeks past Canada Day. We’re right in the thrust of biting insect season. Some suggestions I gave Marlene appear further along.

Back in May 11, 2021 Grainews issue I wrote about attracting hummingbirds to the yard and garden and you the readers — responded. The hummer picture shown in this issue was taken on Vancouver Island by Leanne Mortlock and thanks to her for sharing it with us. A bit about Leanne’s interaction with hummingbirds and their helicopter-like manoeuvres around sugar-syrup feeding stations and flowers follows straight ahead — right after my tip of the hat. More and more folks are setting up feeding stations where they can watch hummingbird antics during daylight hours.

Via email – received June 11, 2021

Leanne Mortlock writes: “Hi Ted, thank you for your consideration. I read your article on attracting hummingbirds to the yard and garden and have a few photos for you. All the photos are taken on Vancouver Island, B.C. Photo-graphing hummingbirds became my pandemic hobby and I was quickly hooked. I have four Anna’s hummingbirds and two Rufous hummingbirds that come to my feeders and flowers daily. I have many more hummingbird photos, in flight, perched, and in flight with flowers. Unfortunately, my files are too large to send in one email. If you are interested in other options, please let me know and would be happy to send them.

I’m not from the Prairies. I was born and raised on Vancouver Island, about 45 minutes northwest from Nanaimo. The Island is beautiful, great for hiking and embracing nature! (I’m sure B.C. Tourism appreciates this — Ted.) Your article actually showed up in my news feed on Google. My husband and I ordered and planted the Hummingbird Seed Mix from West Coast Seeds this year, so I could relate to your article.

I do make my own syrup for my feeders, four parts water to one part white sugar. I boil the water in the kettle then dissolve the sugar in it and boil on the stove for 10 minutes, let it cool to room temperature, and then fill my feeders. I wash and refill the feeders weekly to avoid any bacteria from growing.

Unfortunately, I have yet to capture a hummingbird nest. I have a mom and two juvenile Anna’s hummingbirds that perch in our apple trees daily, but they did not nest in our yard (I assume in an evergreen tree nearby for shelter). Thanks again! Leanne.”

Bee and wasp stings – some preamble

Knowing which insect inflicted the bite will provide a clue to treatment. A honeybee can sting only once after leaving behind its barbed stinger imbedded in the skin. Without the stinger the bee dies. Right at the time after the sting or when appropriate, apply an ice pack or bag of frozen peas placed inside a large plastic freezer bag or wrapped in two or three layers of paper towel over the impacted area. A bee sting does produce pain, throbbing, redness and swelling that usually lessens in a few hours if the stinger is removed. When discomfort con-tinues or symptoms worsen beyond a day (24 hours) a doctor’s prescription might be required.

Bumblebees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets by contrast have smooth stingers that can zap more venom into skin again and again. If stung by a honeybee, remove the stinger ASAP. Otherwise the venom sac continues to pump for up to three minutes longer, driving the stinger and its poison deeper. Be careful not to press or squeeze directly over the honeybee stinger site. Approach the bitten area with something firm like a bank card held sideways to try and dislodge the stinger and watch whether it becomes expelled. Any reader with an effective method to remove a honeybee stinger and/or their method to treat an insect bite can send it to: [email protected] for the benefit of readers.

An insect sting to the neck or near the throat area may swell up quickly and impede ability to breathe. In such case get immediate medical assistance. Other severe reaction regardless of bite location might include symptoms such as chest tightness, hives, nausea, fainting, vomiting, hoarseness, swollen tongue and face or red streaks beyond the swollen area, any of which could lead to shock. Again, get immediate medical assistance.

Some home treatment remedies to consider

If camping or when away for an extended time, take some basic supplies along. Clean the impacted area first as best you can then apply your choice from the following:

ASA tablet — Moisten the skin and gently rub said tablet over the bite area, or moisten the tab first in a tablespoon with a touch of water. Once tablet falls apart spread it over the appropriate site.

Hair dryer — This may sound counterproductive to an ice pack but has received some favourable reports. Set the dryer on warm and aim it directly at the bite making sure the stinger has first been removed. Let the dryer heat neutralize one of the chemicals contained within the venom of a bee or wasp sting.

Brown sugar — Make a paste with a teaspoon of brown sugar and water. Gently rub the mixture over the sting site for a few minutes, making sure the stinger has been removed. Brown sugar water neutralizes poison in bee venom.

White vinegar — Moisten a cotton ball with white vinegar and hold for a few moments at the site of a bee or wasp sting. This neutralizes venom and relieves stinging pain.

Regular-drinking tea bag — Moisten a fresh tea bag in cool water. Apply over the sting site and hold in place 10 minutes to ease pain. Tannic acid in tea relieves stinging sensation and draws the stinger to the skin surface making it easier to remove.

Dislodging the stinger — Remove the stinger and venom sac from a bee sting left in the bite by lightly scraping around the skin using the side edge of a bank or credit card.

Household or laundry ammonia — Moisten a cotton ball with ammonia and place over the sting. Make sure the stinger is first removed. Ammonia appears to neutralize acids in bee venom and relieves pain quickly.

Preparation H — It isn’t just for piles and hemorrhoids. Applying it liberally coats the sting area, helps remove the stinger, reduces swelling and provides quick relief from stinging pain.

Windex — Spray this window cleaner on bee stings to fend off pain. The ammonia in this product neutralizes bee venom, reduces swelling and its mild soap disinfects the sting site.

Listerine — Dabbing some of this oral cavity product on bee and wasp stings relieves pain from the venom quickly and the antiseptic effect disinfects the skin area.

Tabasco hot pepper sauce — It contains the alkaloid capsaicin, a spicy compound proven to anesthetize pain, provide relief and disinfect the sting area when applied topically.

Lastly honey — After removing the stinger, coat the area with Canadian honey. It eases pain, reduces swelling and is a natural disinfectant with antibacterial and antiseptic qualities.

About the author


Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.



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