Bee, wasp and ant stings - Vital Signs and First Aid

Posted by Johanna Verheijen on May 29, 2020

Single stings from a bee, wasp or ant, while painful, seldom cause serious problems except for persons who have an allergy to the venom. Multiple insect stings can cause severe pain and widespread skin reaction. Stings around the face can cause breathing difficulty even if the person is not known to be allergic.

It is important to remember that bee stings with the venom sac attached

continue to inject venom into the skin, so remove immediately, whilst a single wasp or ant may sting multiple times.

In susceptible people, bites or stings may cause a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening. This can also occur in victims with no previous exposure or apparent susceptibility.

Signs and symptoms:


• Immediate and intense local pain

• Local redness and swelling



• Allergic reaction/anaphylaxis

• Abdominal pain and vomiting in the case of allergic reaction


If severe call 111


• If the victim is unresponsive and not breathing normally follow the basic life support assessment (DRSABCD)

• If the victim has signs of anaphylaxis, treat for anaphylaxis

• If there is no history of tick allergy, immediately remove the sting

• If in a remote location, consultation with healthcare professionals is recommended

• Move patient as little as possible

• Apply a cold compress to help reduce pain and swelling

• Monitor the patient for signs of allergic reaction (difficulty speaking, breathing difficulties, collapse and generalised rash).

• Refer the patient to A&E or hospital if sting is to the face or tongue



Urgent medical help is needed when:

• Airway obstruction results from swelling of the face and tongue due to anaphylaxis, or from insect stings in or around the mouth. This may occur immediately or over several hours and always requires urgent medical care.


More information

• Allergy New Zealand (

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