No one likes a party crasher, and yet picnics and barbecues seem to attract their fair share—at least of the winged variety. These scavengers—wasps, bees, yellow jackets, and hornets—often hover near food and sweet-scented drinks (not to mention perfumed guests and those wearing brightly colored clothing). Stinging insects may hang out around your garbage cans, too, and build nests in trees, bushes, under the eaves of buildings, and sometimes on the ground (so it’s wise to keep your shoes on). Be cautious about disturbing a nest: You run the risk of riling the entire colony. Removing it could be a job for professionals.
For most of us, stinging insects are just an annoyance. Should one land on you, don’t panic, and don’t swat at it. Hold still and gently blow on the insect to encourage it to fly away. If you do get stung, you’ll probably experience localized discomfort and swelling, says Clifford Bassett, M.D., an allergist in New York City. Washing the area with cold water, taking an antihistamine, and using a cold compress will help ease pain and reduce swelling. Applying a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water for 15 to 20 minutes may also provide relief.
Of course, for the 3 to 4 percent of Americans who are allergic to stinging insects, a sting can have grave consequences. They may experience increased warmth, facial swelling, nasal and throat problems, difficulty breathing, and even shock. Severe reactions may require the immediate administration of an EpiPen and emergency medical attention.