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Survival Medicine: Insect Bites and Stings

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
Survival Medicine: Insect Bites and Stings

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Something that a lot of us fail to think about until we are in the moment is the ramification of being bitten or stung by a not-so-friendly insect.  In most cases, such stings are annoying and painful but for the most part benign.  Sometimes, though, the toxins from insect stings can be harmful, if not deadly.  This is especially true when the receiving party, namely you or a family member, experiences an allergic reaction.

Whether it is a spider bite, a bee sting, a wasp sting, or some other insect sting, being prepared and knowing what to do should be part of your overall preparedness and wellness plan.

Insect Bites and Stings - Backdoor Survival

Today I am thrilled to bring in Backdoor Survival Contributing Author, Joe Alton, to tell us about insect bites, and how we should deal with them in a survival situation.

Dealing with Insect Bites and Stings From Bees, Wasps & Hornets

In a survival scenario, you will see a million insects for every snake; so many, indeed, that you can expect to regularly get bitten by them. Insect bites usually cause pain with local redness, itching, and swelling but are rarely life-threatening.

The exceptions are black widow spiders, brown recluse spiders, and various caterpillars and scorpions.  Many of these bites can inject toxins that could cause serious damage. Of course, we are talking about the bite itself, not disease that may be passed on by the insect.  We will discuss that subject in the section on mosquito-borne illness. In this article, we’ll talk about bees, wasps, and hornets.

Stinging insects can be annoyances, but for up to 3% of the population, they can be life-threatening. In the United States, 40-50 deaths a year are caused by hypersensitivity reactions.

For most victims, the offender will be a bee, wasp or hornet. A bee will leave its stinger in the victim, but wasps take their stingers with them and can sting again.  Even though you won’t get stung again by the same bee, they send out a scent that informs nearby bees that an attack is underway. This is especially true with Africanized bees, which are more aggressive than native bees.  Wasps and hornets (also called Vespids) can also be persistent in their pursuit of the intruder (that’s you). As such, you should leave the area immediately whether the culprit was a bee, wasp or hornet.

The best way to reduce any reaction to bee venom is to remove the bee stinger as quickly as possible. Pull it out with tweezers or, if possible, scrape it out with your fingernail or sharp-edged object. The venom sac of a bee should not be manipulated as it will inject more irritant into the victim. The longer bee stingers are allowed to remain in the body, the higher chance for a severe reaction.

Most bee and wasp stings heal with little or no treatment. For those that experience only local reactions, the following actions will be sufficient:

  • Clean the area thoroughly.
  • Remove the stinger if visible.
  • Place cold packs and anesthetic ointments to relieve discomfort and local swelling.
  • Control itching and redness with oral antihistamines such as Benadryl or Claritin.
  • Give Acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce discomfort.
  • Apply antibiotic ointments to prevent infection.

Topical essential oils may be applied (after removing the stinger) with beneficial effect.  Use Lavadin, helichrysum, tea tree or peppermint oil, applying 1 or 2 drops to the affected area, 3 times a day. A baking soda paste (baking soda mixed with a small amount of water) may be useful when applied to a sting wound.

Although most of these injuries are relatively minor, there are quite a few people who are allergic to the toxins in the stings. Some are so allergic that they will have what is called an “anaphylactic reaction”.  Instead of just local symptoms like rashes and itching, they will experience dizziness, difficulty breathing and/or faintness.  Severe swelling is seen in some, which can be life-threatening if it closes the person’s airways.

Those experiencing an anaphylactic reaction will require treatment with epinephrine as well as antihistamines.   People who are aware that they are highly allergic to stings should carry antihistamines and epinephrine on their person whenever they go outside.

Epinephrine is available in a pre-measured dose cartridge known as the Epi-Pen (there is a pediatric version, as well).

The Epi-pen is a prescription medication, but few doctors would begrudge a request for one.  Make sure to make them aware that you will be outside and may be exposed to possible causes of anaphylaxis.  As a matter of fact, it may be wise to have several Epi-Pens in your possession.


The Final Word

I hate swarming bees, hornets, wasps and the like.  I never know if I should stay still, run away, or just ignore them.  That said, it is good to know what to do if I get bit so that I can minimize the pain and suffering that usually follows.

Dealing with wasp and bee stings is one thing.  Dealing with mosquitoes and disease carrying insects is another.  New strains seem to be appearing almost weekly and they are in no way benign; people are dying. In the next installment, Joe (Dr. Bones), while share tips and solutions for dealing with those nasty mosquitoes so that we stay safe an healthy no matter how insidious they become.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Spark Naturals Essential Oils: The “Health and Wellness Kit” comes packaged in a tin and includes a brochure with suggested uses for each of the oils. It includes all of my favorites, including Lemon, Frankincense, Oregano, Melaleuca (Tea Tree), Rosemary, Lavender, Amend (Soothing Blend), Respire (Respiratory Blend), Shield (Protective Blend), and Peppermint.  Use the discount code  “BACKDOORSURVIVAL” to receive a 10% discount.

Quikclot Sport Brand Advanced Clotting Sponge: A must for any first aid or emergency kit, Quikclot Sport stops moderate to severe bleeding until further medical help is available.

Israeli Battle Dressing, 6-inch Compression Bandage: This is another inexpensive, yet critical item. Combat medics, trauma doctors, and emergency responders all recommend this Israeli Battle Dressing (IBD) for the treatment of gunshot wounds, puncture wounds, deep cuts, and other traumatic hemorrhagic injuries.

Where There Is No Doctor: Hesperian’s classic manual, Where There Is No Doctor, is perhaps the most widely-used health care manual in the world.

Vigilant Trails First Aid Kit: This kit is very popular with BDS readers. It contains 72 pieces of high quality first aid products and is equipped to help you manage minor cuts, abrasions, rashes, burns, insect bites, allergies, upset stomach, headaches, body aches, blisters, infections, mild dehydration, chapped skin and lips and exposure to poisonous plants containing Urushiol Oil (Poison Oak, Ivy and Sumac). Housed in a small crush proof plastic container, measuring just 5″ X 3.5 ” X 1 7/8″.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10):

Earloop Procedure Face Masks 50/Box: Blue pleated ear loop procedure masks with glass-free filter. These 3-ply fluid resistant face masks are fiberglass free and designed to eliminate fogging. They offer bacteria filtration, with efficiency at 3.0 microns. Aluminum nose guard for extra comfort. Latex-free.

3M N95 Particulate & Respirator Mask: This is an inexpensive mask that can be used in a variety of emergency situations. They come in a box of 20 and are NIOSH-certified. The molded cone design is fluid and splash resistant and will greatly reduces your exposure to airborne particles.

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19 Responses to “Survival Medicine: Insect Bites and Stings”

  1. Tobacco poultice. Old folk remedy. Hands down the Best Remedy! Wet a pinch of loose leaf tobacco. Cigarette are chewing it does not matter. Apply to Bee sting and leave it there til stinging pain goes away(2-5 minutes). The nicotine in the tobacco neutralize the venom. Make a strong solution of tobacco leaves, and apply to part until it entirely disappears. Put chewing tobacco juice straight from your mouth on CUTS, SORES, RINGWORMS, BEE STINGS, BURNS, BLISTERS, and BOILS. It draws out the infection.

    I am from Kentucky and turpentine was often used for people who had a chest cold. also as a vapo type rub. my grandmother used to give it to me. for coughs flu and head colds, she perscribed what she simply called the remedy, 4 shots of whiskey, 4 tablespoons of sugar, with a half cup of sweet tea, warmed. that would soothe anything. another big one i remember is the tobacco juice remedy for bee stings. whenever a bee would sting me, my dad would go runnin for his chew, and would then apply chewed tobacco to the sting. for any kind of posion from spiders to bees they also used baking soda, this also pulls out the poison.

  2. please to not use tweezers to pull out a stinger; it will only squeeze more venom into you. always scrape it out with a fingernail or some other tool.
    btw, i always thought the tobacco remedy was an old wives’ tale until i tried it. it stopped the pain nicely.

  3. I must tell all that toothpaste–generic, any brand– relieves the sting instantly.
    It’s always available and who doesn’t have it?
    I take a bit in my bag with me now. LOL–my husband takes it and used it on a sting in the woods. He has a huge knot, but no pain, or itch.
    It is great for burns as an instant relief from pain.

    Hope this helps; esp. those with young ones around.

  4. As well as Benadryl you can also use Tagamet, by mouth Tagamet is an antihistamine it is a h2 antagonist antihistamine which will last for up to 12 hours, another thing on stinge is tobacco you can chew a small amount of tobacco and put it directly on the sting to help with the pain and swelling.
    Now if you get stung by a stingray you should put the injured area in water as hot as you can stand it the heat destroys the venom stops the swelling and pain.

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