Tips to Avoid Stinging Insects

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

Most people are not allergic to insect stings. But for people who are allergic to insect venom, stings can be dangerous. About 3 of every 100 people in the United States have an insect sting allergy. And, about 40 deaths a year are linked to anaphylaxis triggered by an insect sting.1

Like with all allergies, it is critical to avoid insects if you have a sting allergy.

Common stinging insects and where they live

Insects from the Hymenoptera (hi-men-op-turah) family are the insects most likely to cause an allergic reaction. These include:1

  • Honeybees
  • Wasps
  • Yellow jackets
  • Hornets
  • Fire ants

Insects most often sting if they are disturbed. Whether they are feeding or resting, they do not like to be bothered. If you know where these insects live, you can decrease your chances of being stung:2-4

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  • Yellow jackets nest in dirt mounds, old logs, and walls. They are attracted to exposed food and garbage. They are very aggressive and can sting with very little interference from humans or pets.
  • Honeybees nest in beehives or old logs. They are not aggressive. But if you walk barefoot outside, one may sting you as you walk in grass or brush against flowering plants where they are feeding.
  • Hornets and wasps nest in bushes, trees, and on buildings, especially under roofs.
  • Fire ants live in mounds on top of and under the ground. They are common along roads, backyards, and public places, especially in the southern United States.

Take precautions to keep yourself safe

Stinging insects are most active in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Since insect repellants do not work against these insects, avoiding them is the best way to stay safe.

Here are some steps you can take to avoid being stung:2-4

  • Know where insects nest and avoid those areas.
  • Watch for nests in bushes or on the ground when mowing or gardening.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes with socks when outdoors.
  • Avoid going barefoot outside.
  • Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible when outside.
  • Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing.
  • Avoid wearing perfume or other strong scents.
  • Try not to swat at a flying insect. Wait for it to fly away. Stay calm, and slowly move away.
  • Keep flying insects out of the home by keeping screens on your windows and doors.
  • Spray insecticide into and around garbage cans, and cover them with tight-fitting lids.
  • Cover food outside until you are ready to eat.
  • Avoid open drink cans or bottles. These can be good hiding places for stinging insects who are attracted to sweet beverages.

You may even need to go outdoors only with a companion so they can give you emergency treatment if you are stung.3

If you find nests around your home, hire an exterminator or someone else to spray insecticides or destroy them. Fire ant mounds can be drenched with chemicals that slowly kill the colony.3

Carry epinephrine

People with severe stinging insect allergies should always carry 2 epinephrine auto-injectors. This drug is prescribed by your doctor and should be used for severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis. If epinephrine is used, always call 9-1-1.1,3

You should also wear medical alert jewelry that lists your allergies. This can help friends, family, first responders, and healthcare workers know how to care for you.1