Ask people if they’ve ever been stung, and they immediately remember the first time — and probably subsequent times. Those moments stick because they are painful.
More than causing pain, however, insect stings can be dangerous. In fact, they send more than half a million people to the emergency room every year, according to Pest World.
Avoid the pain and the danger by watching out for these five stinging insects this summer and contacting an expert if you think you have an infestation.
While most ants bite, fire ants will sting when they think they are in danger. You can tell them apart from other ants by their brown heads and dark bodies. Their sting has been described as feeling like fire, and they are resilient: They can withstand freezing temperatures and form a nest on water to avoid drowning, according to Healthline.
Fire ants can be helpful, as they kill and eat other insects, and you can avoid their stings by simply leaving them alone. If you find a fire ant mound in your yard, contact a professional to take care of it for you.
If you are stung and have an allergic reaction, get to a medical facility right away. Otherwise, WebMD recommends icing the area and using hydrocortisone cream and an antihistamine.
The most common bees locally are honeybees and bumblebees, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Both types will sting, but if you leave them alone it’s unlikely to happen. You can avoid provoking them by simply walking away instead of swinging your arms and screaming.
“While foraging, bees are rather passive and rarely sting unless severely provoked,” the DOH says.
Less common but more aggressive bees are Africanized honeybees, sometimes called killer bees. Like all insects that sting, they do so to protect themselves from danger. They are difficult to tell apart from other bees for the average onlooker, but they will chase people for a quarter-mile, according to the Smithsonian. To avoid being stung, you can run in a zigzag pattern or duck into your house or car.
Outside of allergic reactions, you can treat a bee sting by scraping the area to remove the stinger and icing it and then treating any symptoms with painkillers and antihistamines for the next few days.
Hornets look similar to bees in some ways but can be distinguished by their thinner waists and black-and-white coloring. The reason they sting is to protect their hive, so you can avoid those stings by — you guessed it — leaving them alone.
“Hornets are often considered pests, particularly when they nest near humans, because they will defend a nest aggressively if they feel it is threatened,” National Geographic says. “Though many people fear their sting, hornets usually get the worst of such encounters when their nests are poisoned or destroyed.”
You can treat a hornet sting the same as a bee sting, by first removing the stinger and then treating the area with ice and medication, as needed.
Yellowjackets are a type of wasp with black and yellow coloring, although some have white or red mixed in. You may have seen their nests in trees, on buildings and on the ground.
“Unlike Africanized honeybees, yellowjackets are slow to sting unless their nest is threatened, in which case they become very aggressive,” Pest World says. “Unlike bees, yellowjackets are capable of stinging several times, inflicting severe pain. In some cases, people who have been bitten by yellowjackets can become hypersensitive to such stings, which means that any future encounters can be life-threatening.”
If you are stung, follow the same procedures as with the other insects. To help draw out venom from any insect sting, you can make a paste with baking soda and water to spread on the area.
Along with yellowjackets, paper wasps are the most common types of wasps in Washington. They are rarely aggressive but, because they nest just about anywhere, they can create problems in areas frequented by people. They commonly build on trees, building overhangs and beams in garages, barns and sheds.
“Paper wasps do not scavenge and are rarely aggressive,” the DOH says. “ … The wasp's stinger has small barbs which do not embed in the skin. Wasps can sting repeatedly, and will often do so if threatened or protecting their nest.”
In addition to treating with ice and medication, another way to treat paper wasp and other insect stings is with a colloidal oatmeal bath, using over-the-counter products.