You can treat yellow jacket stings with antihistamines and home remedies. But an allergic reaction requires immediate medical attention. If you’re allergic, always carry an epi-pen.

Yellow jackets — properly known as Vespula, Dolichovespula, or Paravespula — are thin wasps with black and yellow coloring and long dark wings. Here you can learn how to treat their stings and prevent them.

Yellow jackets have stripes that often cause them to be confused with honey bees, although bees tend to be rounder in appearance. Unlike bees, which create hives that produce honey, yellow jackets live in nests, which can be found in secluded areas or on the ground.

Also, unlike bees, which can only sting once since they inject their stinger into you, yellow jackets have the ability to sting you multiple times. When a yellow jacket stings you, it pierces your skin with its stinger and injects a poisonous venom that causes sudden pain.

You may also experience inflammation or redness around the sting a few hours after being stung. Fatigue, itching, and warmth around the injection site are also common symptoms for many people.

Once you’ve been stung, it’s not uncommon to experience swelling, tenderness, or redness near the area that’s been stung. Some symptoms warrant emergency medical attention. These may include:

  • coughing or wheezing
  • problems breathing or swallowing, or having tightness in your throat
  • changes to your skin, such as breaking out into hives
  • feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or passing out
  • vomiting or diarrhea

These may be symptoms of an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening.

If you or someone near you is experiencing an allergy or anaphylaxis, you should:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • See if they have an epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector (Epi-Pen) and inject them if needed.
  • Try to keep them calm.
  • Help them lie on their back.
  • Raise their feet about 12 inches and cover them with a blanket.
  • Turn them on their side if they are vomiting or bleeding.
  • Make sure their clothing is loose so they can breathe.
  • Avoid giving them oral medications or anything to drink, and avoid lifting their head, especially if they’re having trouble breathing.

If they stop breathing or become unconscious, you may need to perform CPR.

First aid you should know: How to treat an allergic reaction.

  1. Use an ice or cold pack for the pain. Applying an ice or a cold pack to the affected area can help immediately reduce inflammation and the painful swelling associated with a yellow jacket sting. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel or washcloth before applying it to the bite to protect your skin. Leave the ice on the bite for at least 10 minutes for best results. Keep reading: How to make a cold compress.
  1. Take an antihistamine. The body produces a chemical known as histamine in an effort to protect the body from foreign substances, which is partly what causes swelling and itching. Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Benadryl right after getting stung can reduce these symptoms.
  2. Mix up a paste of water and baking soda. The venom that yellow jackets produce is naturally acidic. Baking soda can help counteract the venom naturally. Mix a spoonful of baking soda with water, and then apply with a cotton swab or ball to the yellow jacket sting to help neutralize the venom.
  3. Use vinegar to reduce itching. Simple vinegar can act as an astringent and keep you from clawing at the bite, which could lead to further infection or inflammation. Just put a little vinegar on a cotton ball and pat it on the affected area.
  4. Sprinkle meat tenderizer on the wound. There’s actually some truth to this old wives’ tale. This powder typically has an enzyme called papain. This enzyme is naturally found in papaya fruit and helps break down the proteins in meat, and it may do the same for the venom of a yellow jacket sting. Rub a tiny bit of meat tenderizer on the bite to see if it helps reduce the pain and swelling. However, the research on the effectiveness of this method is limited and inconclusive.
  5. Use an Epi-Pen. If you or a family member is allergic to yellow jacket stings, keep an Epi-Pen handy in your purse. Be sure to talk with your doctor about when to use this powerful prescription drug.

Learn more: First aid for bites and stings.

During the warmer spring and summer months, yellow jackets are out in force, feeding off of flowers so they can nourish themselves and their colonies.

They tend to be more aggressive than honeybees or bumble bees, making a sting more likely. Follow these tips to reduce the chances of getting stung:

  • If you’re dining outdoors, dispose of trash or cover food immediately to keep any lurking yellow jackets away.
  • Wear clothes that cover any areas that can be stung.
  • Avoid carrying any exposed sugary food or drinks or wearing any perfumes that can attract insects.
  • If you’re hiking and come across a bunch of yellow jackets, that’s a sign a nest may be nearby, so try to take an alternate route.
  • Swatting aggressively at yellow jackets also makes them more likely to attack, so it may be best to remain calm and limit any sudden movements if one lands on you.

Here are answers to more questions about yellow jacket stings.

How do I remove a yellow jacket stinger?

After being stung, you can gently remove the stinger by wiping it with gauze or scraping your fingernail over the area. Do not use tweezers or try to squeeze the stinger out.

What should I do if I get stung by a yellow jacket?

If you get stung and are not experiencing severe allergy symptoms, remove the sting and follow the treatment guidelines in this article. If you or someone near you is experiencing an allergy or anaphylaxis, you should call 911 and use an Epi-Pen. Perform CPR if the person is not breathing.

How long does a yellow jacket sting last?

Most of the time, the inflammation will stay contained to the area of the sting and will get better in a few days. In about 10% of cases, people can experience a larger, more painful reaction to an insect sting. This is not an allergic reaction but can take longer to resolve.