Hornet Stings: Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment of the Poisonous Sting

hornet stings

Hornets are one of the flying insects like wasps, bees, yellow jackets that use their sting in defense and protection of their colony. Hornets have varying amounts of black and yellow color on their body. These are very similar to wasps in characteristics but are not as round as the bumblebees. The insects work together to form nests, like many species of wasps and are social in nature. Despite their huge size, hornets are not aggressive in nature. However, if you unknowingly come closer to a hornet nest or colony, be ready for a defensive attack, a painful sting!

In this blog, we will discuss the rare but painful hornet stings and some facts about the insect that not many know.

Hornet Stings

If you ever make a hornet feel threatened as you get closer to its nest or colony, they attack in self-defense.

Symptoms of a hornet sting

Like any other insects, a hornet sting is also painful and needs immediate attention. Check out some common symptoms you might experience soon after a hornet sting:

Severe pain

You will feel excruciating pain at the site where the insect landed. Generally they attack on hand, feet or arm. The pain will be extreme, instant, stinging and leave burning sensation.


After a few minutes of the sting, you will see redness in the site of sting. Red patches around the sting site that expands to 3-4 inches around the area. The normal affect spreads to 1-2 inches. But, if it is not your first hornet sting, things can get worse.


The sting site will appear slight puffy and swelled. You might also experience itching in the area for quite some time.

In case of a large local reaction, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • severe redness and swelling that expands up to 12 inches around the sting site
  • swelling of an entire limb, which can even last a few days
  • in case of multiple stings, you might experience a rash, fever, headache and nausea
  • rarely, swelling and pain in joints that starts after several days

Multiple stings can be a fatal sign for kids. In some individuals, the venom can cause allergic reaction that worsens the situation.

Complications of hornet sting

Most hornet sting reactions are mild to moderate, which do not lead to severe allergy. However, there are some complications that you should look out for.

There are some allergic reactions, which when gets severe needs adrenaline for treatment.

If you don’t seek treatment soon after the sting, it might lead to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal.

Some of the symptoms of anaphylaxis are:

  • wheezing or breathing difficulty
  • severe swelling of the face, lips or throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • itching or hives in places other than the site of the sting
  • sudden drop in blood pressure or weak pulse
  • fast heart rate
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • confusion, anxiety, or agitation

If you notice any of these symptoms, know that it’s a medical emergency. Rush to a doctor immediately.

Treatment of a hornet sting

Like many other insect stings, hornet sting do not always need medical attention, but some medication can help soothe the pain and discomfort:

  • Acetaminophen or aspirin for pain
  • Anesthetic creams or sprays to decrease any risk of information
  • Oral antihistamines or antihistamine creams to control swelling

You can get these products online or over-the-counter from any chemist shop. If the local reaction is extreme, you might need to take corticosteroids for 3 to 5 days.

If you already know about your sting allergy, make sure to keep an epinephrine injector handy. It can come to aid in an emergency situation when getting to a doctor isn’t easy.

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Home remedies to cure hornet stings

Home remedies or first aid for a person stung by hornet, bee or wasp are almost same, including several do’s and don’ts:


  • Be with the person to look for any severe reaction that could develop within a few minutes.
  • If you see any symptoms of an allergic reaction, call for urgent medical help.
  • Remove the stinger instantly if it remains. Hornet stingers may stay in the skin, continuously injecting venom.
  • To remove the stinger, use a piece of guaze to wipe it, or scrape a finger nail, a bank card or piece of paper on it.
  • Stay calm and walk away from the sight, as hornets can sting again. Generally, these insects do not leave a stinger.
  • Wash the site of the sting properly using soap and water.
  • Apply a cold compress, for example, ice wrapped in a cloth, frozen peas, or a cold cloth to reduce swelling.


  • Use tweezers or squeeze the stinger to pull it out. It can cause release of more venom.
  • Burst the blisters developed, since this can lead to infection.
  • Scratch the sting because it will aggravate the problem , leading to an infection.
  • Use calamine lotion, bicarbonate of soda or vinegar. These ingredients can neutralize the venom as it will reach the deep layers and within the tissues.


Check out dome practical ways to prevent a hornet sting.


  • Wear shoes
  • Put on light-colored, not-too loose smooth clothing
  • Use repellent products such as non-harmful traps
  • Remove any hornet hives or nest close to your home. Take help of a professional service
  • Cover food containers and trash cans
  • Keep areas clean, especially where there is food
  • Keep your clothes clean and maintain proper hygiene, as sweat may anger bees
  • Use widely brimmed cups while drinking sweet drinks, as it makes insects easier to see
  • Take care during outdoor activities such as garden trimming, which could provoke a hornet nest


  • Put on brightly colored and flower-print clothing
  • Use cosmetics, fragrances and toiletries that have banana-related or floral scents
  • Wear loose clothing that can trap insects like bees, hornets and wasps
  • Wear sandals or shoes with an open-toe

Facts about Hornets you should know

Hornets are wasps

Most of us have believed that hornets are wasps are two different insect species, but that’s not true. Hornets belong to a subset of wasps. To be particular, hornets are a social wasp bred that loves in highly organized, large colonies. They belong to the insect family Vespidae. Vespidae includes all the species of the hornet and some wasps like yellow jackets, potter wasps, pollen wasps and paper wasps.

To your surprise, bald-faced hornets do not belong to the hornet family and are wasps.

The distinct difference between hornets and wasps is size. Hornets are comparatively more substantial in size. Now you can understand why hornets look scarier than wasps, even though they are shy. Another difference between the two is their color. While the wasps are mostly black and yellow, hornets are orangey-red — their color changes from species to species.

Hornets are gentle giants

By gentle giants, we mean hornets are not as aggressive as you might imagine. Like many other nest-building insects, hornets only attack in defense, when a human or animals threaten their colony. So, if you are too close to a hornet’s nest, you might experience a painful sting. The proximity of closeness is just 2-3 meters.

When out of their nests, hornets are very passive creatures. Some researchers noted hornets are shy, peaceful creatures. They do not like conflicts and only attach when they have to.

Hornets built nests above the ground

If you wonder where do hornets build their nests, it entirely depends on the hornet species. In general, they prefer building nests in high areas, like:

  • Treetops
  • Decking
  • Attics
  • Under roofs
  • Garages
  • Hollow tree trunks
  • Sheds
  • Areas above the ground

Most elevated nests of hornets are free-hanging with the support of a stalk (petiole) attached to the closest object like a tree branch.

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Exception: Apart from high places, these insects also build their nests in closed spaces that offer security and support. Sometimes, you might see a hornet nest in an old, abandoned rodent burrow.

Situated in gardens, fields and parks, hornet’ nests in the ground are very dangerous for humans. These are usually areas populated by humans. So, if you unknowingly step on a hornet, it will sting.

Hornets love bees

One of the favorite things of hornets is bees! Not just because they are a great protein source for the future queens, but also as they provide golden, sweet, sugar goodness which is the favorite of hornets.

It takes only a few hornets to wipe out a colony of a honey bee. They are 5 times the size of the European honey bee. Their massive power and huge size indicate that one hornet can kill around 40 bees in a mute,

But, the Japanese honey bee has got a smart technique to stop the hornets from wiping out their colonies. As soon as a hornet group moves to the beehive, they attack her before she releases any pheromones to attract teammates, As a honey bee sting is nowhere as intense as a hornet’s sting, they swarm around the hornet, while vibrating their bodies fast. These vibrations lead to a drastic rise in the temperature that can roast the hornet alive.

This tactic is a result of evolution over centuries. Honey bees from other parts of the world need to get a grip of this defense strategy, being prime targets to the huge hornets while they move around the globe.

Hornets are natural pest controllers

One of the most exciting facts about hornets are they work as natural pest controllers. Having a craving for other small insects like aphids, they help nature get away from the unwanted garden pests that damage agricultural resources.

Commonly, hornets like having a rich diet or protein and sugar. Some of the vital food dosage hornets have include:

  • Sugar: Hornets have a sweet tooth and crave for fizzy drinks and fruits.
  • Protein: The young hornets live on proteins in the form of insects.
  • Sap: They love tree sap. You might find these creatures use their mandibles to pull the tree bark and consume the sticky substance.

Hornet venom is deadly

The main factor that makes hornets one of the dangerous insects is their sting; their venom is deadly. Although, the chances of experiencing a hornet sting are minimal, if they do attack you, it can be fatal.

The reason behind their sting being so dangerous is the giant size of hornets. In general, a hornet sting is not toxic to humans, but because of their size, they release a large amount of venom in each sting, which makes it deadly. They release more poison per sting as compared to other stinging insects.

Huge Asian Hornets

At the moment, giant Asian hornets are becoming popular across the world. Originated in Japan, the giant Asian hornet has crossed the borders of Europe very fast. Having a dangerous venom and ling stinger that create adverse effects on your nervous system and tissues, it is better not to mess with these shy, peaceful creatures.

Hornets are a delicacy in Japan

Hornets indeed are one of the reasons of hospital visits in Japan, but that doesn’t keep the people away from savoring the predatory stinging insects. In the mountain areas of Japan, villagers consider hornets as a delicacy, especially hornet larvae. It is mostly eaten raw or deep fried. These insects provide a high amount of protein.

Energy drink

The larvae of a hornet produce sweet, sticky segregation called vespa amino acid mixtures (VAAM) that gives energy to the workers. The product is also top-rated in energy drinks of Japan.

Just imagine, as red bull gives you wings, what would you get from a hornet energy drink?

Well, for that you need to go to Japan!

The Bottom Line

Hornets are giant stinging insects, more prominent in size than wasps, yellow jackets and bees, which make their sting more deadly. Though a hornet sting is something uncommon, if they sting, it can be life-threatening for some humans. Remove the stinger and apply ice for 20 minutes every hour to get relief from the severe pain and itching. If the case worsens, you need to seek medical help.

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