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Sting, Skin

Stinging Insect Allergies: Bees and Wasps

See also: Ants | Mosquitos

For most people, bee and wasp stings are a pain – literally – but for people with venom allergies, getting stung can have serious, and even life-threatening, consequences. But from wearing the right colors to clearing out clutter, there are simple avoidance steps you can take to prevent the flying insects from setting up shop around your home, and to deal with the unwanted intruders if they have barged in.

For answers on bee and wasp safety, we turned to Stoy Hedges, senior technical professional and entomologist with Terminix, as well as the AAAAI’s stinging allergy guidelines.

Bumblebee Yellow jacket Honey bee

Bug Basics
• There are dozens of varieties of stinging insects, from honeybees to yellow jackets to fire ants.

• The biggest nuisances for homeowners are paper wasps and yellow jackets because they set up shop in voids in the walls of houses or other protected cavities. Hornets tend to build nests on walls or in trees or shrubs.

• Bees have a gentler reputation but still pack a powerful punch – and yes, bumblebees do sting.

• Backyards are the perfect place for bees, wasps and other stinging insects because they can usually find water, food, shelter and flowers which attract them.

• Some stinging insects set up shop for the year; others remain year after year.

• Once you are exposed to the venom of a particular stinging insect, you can become sensitized to it, and some venoms can cause serious allergic reactions.

Stinging Insect Allergies: Reactions and Protection

Did you Know
• Many bees and wasps don’t create holes themselves; they just use cavities that they find.

• Social wasps such as yellow jackets, hornets and honeybees will make nests that house hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of workers – and some, such as the Africanized honeybee, can be triggered to sting en masse by loud vibrating noises such as leaf blowers and lawn mowers.

• It’s a myth that all bees can only sting once then die. This only applies to honeybees.

• Honeybees can set up for years at a time, and will sometimes split colonies, which can lead to swarms.

• Bumblebees and honeybees have different venom, and so each requires a specific extract for treatment.

• Yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps feed on human foods, and they’re especially attracted to sweet food. That’s why they tend to hang out near garbage cans, leftover food, or at outdoor events where food and soft drinks are served.

• Most stings only cause localized pain and swelling, but in a person who has a specific insect allergy, they can cause systemic reactions. Anaphylactic sting reactions account for approximately 40 deaths per year in the United States. (Read more on reactions here.)

• Potentially life-threatening insect stings occur in 0.4 to 0.8 percent of children and 3 percent of adults.

• Sometimes to access nests in walls, pest control pros will need to drill small holes, then spray pest killer; when it’s honeybees, they sometimes have to open entire walls to remove the honeycomb and dead bees. In extreme cases, a beekeeper may be called in to remove the honey and the hives.

Next page: Dos and Don’ts