The Symptoms of a Yellow Jacket Sting


Yellow jackets, a type of wasp the size of house flies, are named for the black and yellow stripes on their abdomen. They form nests in the ground and can become dangerous if these nests are stepped on or kicked, resulting in stinging attacks against the perpetrator. Unlike bees, wasps can easily remove their stingers from a victim's skin, giving them the ability to sting repeatedly. The reaction to a yellow jacket sting varies widely, from minor irritation to death.

Local Reaction

Beginning immediately after the sting, this is the most common reaction. Symptoms usually last only hours, although they may continue for up to a week. The sting itself usually becomes red and swollen, although the amount of swelling varies. It may also itch and be warm to the touch. In larger local reactions, swelling may spread and nausea and fatigue may occur. All of these symptoms are normal and not a sign of allergy.

Systemic Allergic Reaction

In some cases a sting victim's body produces an antibody called IgE against the yellow jacket venom. This antibody is the cause of allergic reactions in future stings. The symptoms can be as mild as hives and flushed skin or they may becoming life threatening. The most severe reaction is known as anaphylaxis and includes difficulty breathing, low blood pressure and circulatory problems, possibly progressing to cardiorespiratory arrest and death. Many people who experience an anaphylactic reaction have previously been stung without any serious consequences.

Toxic Reaction

Unlike the other responses to a sting, a toxic reaction is caused by toxins in the venom and not an immunologic reaction. Because yellow jackets live in colonies, a victim who accidentally disturbs a nest may be stung multiple times, resulting in a large quantity of venom in the body. The skin symptoms that are common to stings such as rash or hives are more rare in a toxic reaction. Fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, fainting and convulsions are all symptoms of this type of reaction. Victims who suffer toxic reactions are more likely to have an allergic reaction to future stings.

Delayed Reaction

Occuring days to weeks after the sting, delayed reactions are the least common type and make up less than .3 percent of all insect stings. Inflammation of the brain, kidneys, blood vessels or nerves may occur as a result of a delayed reaction. Serum sickness can set in seven to 10 days after the sting. Symptoms of serum sickness include rash, itching, fever, fatigue, joint pain and swollen lymph nodes.

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