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Summer brings stings — how to avoid them

WINSTON-SALEM – Summertime and the livin’ is easy; but it also can sting.

Whether the calendar includes a cookout, the lake or just a few hours in the backyard, the warmer temperatures and longer days present increased opportunities for insect encounters.

“While for most of us these stings are just a minor annoyance, for others they can present a serious health threat and should be treated quickly and appropriately,” said Brian Hiestand, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Bee, wasp, hornet, fire ant stings — these can’t always be avoided — but there are a few things people can do to lessen their chances of one of these summer stings.”

Hiestand and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommend the below tips to help ensure a sting-free summer:

  • Remove old tree stumps, fallen trees or piles of debris that stinging insects could nest in. Limit the amount of flowers and other colorful landscaping that attract insects.
  • Be aware when drinking sweet beverages (soda, juice, etc.) outside, as they can attract insects. Use wide, open cups as they offer the chance to inspect if a bee is in them, as opposed to canned drinks or straws.
  • Avoid leaving food uncovered, especially sugary and sweet foods.
  • Use lids on outdoor trash cans and store them away from the home exterior.
  • Remain calm and still if a single stinging insect is flying around — swatting at an insect may cause it to sting.
  • When driving, keep windows rolled up. If a bee does enter a vehicle, stop the car slowly, and open all windows.

“Nearly everyone will experience a minor, localized reaction to the venom from bites and stings,” said Hiestand. “However, it’s key for people to know the difference between normal swelling and irritation versus severe and even anaphylactic reactions.”

According to Hiestand, typical symptoms of a non-allergic insect sting can include redness, swelling and/or itching at the site of the sting. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include: itching and hives, swelling in the throat or tongue, difficulty breathing, dizziness, stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea.

If the reaction is mild, treatment can be done at home by quickly removing the stinger if it’s been left in the skin — a swift scrape of a fingernail often removes the stinger. Gently wash the area with soap and water to prevent secondary infections, and a cold compress can reduce swelling and pain. Topical steroid ointments or oral antihistamines can assist in itch relief.

If a serious reaction occurs, seek emergency medical treatment. Shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing or dizziness should prompt a call to 911. Those already aware of a severe insect-allergy should always carry an auto-injectable epinephrine and alert friends and family on how to properly use if needed.

“Severe reactions to these stings are rare, but it’s important to be educated and prepared on how to deal with these uninvited summer visitors,” said Hiestand.

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