How Badly Does a Wasp Sting Hurt: Why They are so Painful

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Wasp stings hurt. Period.

Even if you are a rampant thrill-seeker who enjoys tattoos, piercings, and juggling fire, getting stung by a wasp is not a good time.

When answering this question, then, it isn’t a matter of figuring out if a wasp sting hurts, but rather how badly a wasp sting hurts.

Before that, however, let’s first look at why it is so painful!

Why Does a Wasp Sting Hurt?

Wasps are Small but Dangerous
Wasps are Small but Dangerous (photo via oktavianus mulyadi/UnSplash license)


Yes, read that again. When a wasp injects its stinger into your flesh, it is injecting venom directly into your skin.

Because wasps are small, the stinger – which is located at the end of the abdomen – works as the primary source of self-defense.

Injecting the stinger (and its venom) into the flesh of potential predators helps deter further attack. Wasps can also inject the stinger into their own prey.

What Happens When a Wasp Injects You with Venom?

Depending on the species of wasp, the venom is essentially a chemical cocktail intended to set off a series of reactions in the person or creature that has been stung.

A mild reaction often includes sensitivity at the site of the sting. Varying degrees of pain, swelling, and inflammation in the affected area are normal.

A severe reaction, however, is possible. If the person or creature being stung is especially sensitive to the venom chemicals, the wasp sting can cause anaphylaxis.

What is Anaphylaxis: Vital Steps to Take if a Wasp Sting Gets Serious

Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur in response to a wasp sting or other allergen. During anaphylaxis, the immune system overracts to the allergen – in this case, the wasp sting – and releases additional chemicals into the bloodstream that can cause a series of adverse reactions.

Anaphylaxis from a wasp sting is an extreme and potentially deadly allergic reaction that can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the face, throat, or tongue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Hives or other skin reactions
  • Abdominal cramps or vomiting

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms after being stung by a wasp – or even if you believe you may have been stung – it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

Medical treatments my include the use of epinephrine (adrenaline) to force the airways open, antihistamines to reduce swelling, burning, itching, and sensitivity, and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

Also, if you have had a reaction to wasp or other stings in the past, it is best to work with an allergist to ensure you are prepared for potential future attacks. This may include carrying an Epi-pen with you whenever you are outdoors. Having one in the house is also a good idea since wasps do tend to get inside homes.

What Chemicals are Emitted During a Wasp Sting?

Wasp venom is a complex mixture of chemicals, which can vary depending on the species of the wasp. Some of the common chemicals found in wasp venom include:

  • Histamine: This is a chemical that plays a role in the body’s immune response and can cause itching, swelling, and redness at the site of the sting.
  • Acetylcholine: This chemical is responsible for transmitting nerve impulses, and it can cause pain, itching, and swelling.
  • Serotonin: This is a neurotransmitter that can cause pain, itching, and swelling.
  • Dopamine: This is another neurotransmitter that can cause pain, itching, and swelling.
  • Mast cell degranulating peptide (MCDP): This is a peptide that can trigger the release of histamine from mast cells, causing an allergic reaction.
  • Phospholipase A2 (PLA2): This is an enzyme that can break down cell membranes and cause tissue damage.
  • Hyaluronidase: This is an enzyme that can break down hyaluronic acid, a component of connective tissue, which can contribute to tissue damage and facilitate the spread of the venom.

So, How Badly Does a Wasp Sting Hurt?

Above, we looked at why a wasp sting hurts, but let’s consider how badly it hurts.

In most cases, the site of the sting will be sore. Any time the skin is punctured, there will be some sensitivity. Considering that wasp venom is injecting chemicals and the body omits additional chemicals to offset the attack, swelling, itching, and burning can occur.

Part of the pain response involves the subject of the sting and the site. In the photo above, you will a lovely photo of my nose a couple hours after a wasp stung the inside of my nostrils.

I’ve been stung quite a few times and it never feels good. This particular sting, however, was a whole different type of pain. My nose begin burning within about thirty seconds. The pain then radiated into my jaw and my mouth to the point where I wanted to rip out my teeth.

Yeah, that wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Fortunately, taking some Benadryl helped alleviate the pain. Icing the spot brought the swelling down, but it was uncomfortable for a couple hours.

Keep in mind that wasp stings can get much worse.

Can Wasp Stings be Fatal?

Wasp with Stinger
Wasp with Stinger (photo via oktavianus mulyadi/UnSplash license)

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has published numerous statistics on wasp and bee stings. One particular study shows that between the years 2000 and 2017, a total of 1,109 Americans died after experiencing a bee, wasp, or hornet sting.

That is an average of 62 per year.

Further, the same page suggests that 80% of fatalities from these stings were male.

Also, keep in mind that a wasp can still sting you after it has died – talk about passive-aggressive!

Note: This article discusses circumstances one may face after being stung by a wasp, bee, hornet, or other creature in the wild. This is not intended to be a “how-to” survival guide, nor is there any medical advice given. In the event that you may experience any type of nature-related injury or accident, seeking medical attention immediately is always advised.

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