Have you ever wondered why baking soda is used as a bee sting remedy? It’s a common misconception that the venom from some bees is acidic, while others jab you with an alkaline punch. That school of thought suggests neutralizing the bee sting with something alkaline, like baking soda.
While it’s true that bee stings are acidic and wasp stings are slightly alkaline, that difference isn’t much of a factor in how you care for their stings. Keep in mind that each insect’s venom is made up of many chemicals and proteins — so the pH balance isn’t what makes their stings so painful.
Take a look at some of the stinging insects in Tennessee and what you can do if you get stung.
Tennessee’s native bees are typically not aggressive, and are actually great to have around because they’re good pollinators. If you get stung, though, the bee will leave its stinger in your skin. The first bee sting remedy is to quickly remove the stinger before it can release all its venom. This can be done by scraping a fingernail, credit card or piece of gauze across your skin to swipe out the stinger. Pinching it with tweezers or your nails is inadvisable because that might cause the stinger to release even more venom.
Bees are the only insects on this list that sting once, while the others can sting repeatedly. Both bees and wasps release a scent when they sting that alerts other insects of danger and can make them more aggressive. If you get stung, calmly move away from the area to avoid further attacks.
Tennessee is home to many types of wasps, including numerous varieties of yellow jackets, hornets, paper wasps and mud daubers. Most are not aggressive unless you disturb their nest or are perceived as an immediate threat.
When fire ants attack, they first bite the skin to anchor themselves and then rotate from the head to sting repeatedly with the tail-end of their bodies. That’s one reason why their stings are so painful; each ant gets you multiple times. Fire ants release venom after the initial sting and may continue stinging even after their supply of venom is depleted.
Some regions of Tennessee have scorpions, but fortunately they’re not the giant ones found in Southwestern states. When a scorpion stings, it grabs with its claws and stings with a barb on the end of its tail — sometimes more than once. Scorpion venom attacks your nervous system, so younger children and elderly adults should seek precautionary medical care if stung. Most often, you’ll only see a local reaction like redness, pain, slight swelling and warmth where you’ve been stung.
In most cases, stings from these insects are merely painful nuisances. However, some people have severe allergic reactions that can be life-threatening. Call 911 if you experience facial swelling, trouble breathing, hives, dizziness or vomiting.
Although each of these insects’ venom is different, the treatment is the same for all of their stings. The Mayo Clinic has a few general recommendations for treatment:
- If stung by a bee, remove the stinger carefully.
- Wash the injury with soap and water.
- Apply a cold compress to ease the pain and slow the spread of venom.
Other treatment options include over-the-counter pain relievers, antihistamines and calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. There are many home remedies as well, like applying a baking soda paste, meat tenderizer or vinegar to a sting site. Many solutions use kitchen staples, so there’s a good chance your pantry is stocked with something that can help — even if your medicine cabinet isn’t.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.