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Boots pharmacist Angela chalmers

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‘I’ve been stung! What do I do?’

Get to the bottom of those irritating niggles with the help of our experts

Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers says: Barbecues, gardening, even just having your windows open – they all increase the risk of getting stung by wasps and bees at this time of year. Both stings cause an instant, burning pain that usually lasts a few seconds. Most reactions are mild, but the severity depends on where you’ve been stung – the face, stomach and hands are particularly sensitive. You’ll see a red, swollen mark, normally around half an inch across, which will be itchy and painful for several hours before it calms down. If you’ve been stung by a bee, a black sting will be left in the skin, which needs to be removed to prevent infection. Scrape it off using the edge of a credit card, rather than pinching it with fingers or tweezers, as this may spread the venom. Wasps tend not to leave a sting behind, but if they do, follow the same procedure.

Avoid attracting wasps and bees by not wearing sweet-scented fragrances or clothes with floral patterns

If you’re stung, try to keep still, as movement increases the spread of venom into the bloodstream, and apply an ice pack if possible. Wash the area with soap as soon as you can, to ward off infection. Oral antihistamines or hydrocortisone cream may help to reduce swelling or itching (always read the label, as some aren’t suitable for children). If the sting doesn’t calm down after a few hours and it goes on to develop pus, or you notice your glands are swollen, it may have become infected and you should see your GP.


Bees normally sting in self-defence, while wasps are more aggressive. Avoid attracting both by steering clear of sweet perfumes or clothes with bright, floral patterns. Wasps are attracted to food and drink, so apply a suitable insect repellent when eating outside. Always wear shoes, too; bare feet often get stung.


Very occasionally, a sting can trigger a serious allergic reaction, leading to anaphylaxis. Symptoms include swelling around the eyes, lips, tongue or throat, difficulty breathing, dizziness, rash, stomach cramps and even loss of consciousness. Cases like this are an emergency, so call 999.

*Never leave a burning candle unattended.

Compiled by Charlotte Grant-West Photography iStock, Matthew Walder, Shutterstock

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