Summer is officially over, but we’re soaking up every last warm, sunny day while we can. Fall in New England is a perfect time for picnics and trips to the playground, but when you bring out the food or snacks you may notice a lot of unwanted guests buzzing around.

Bees and wasps become more active and aggressive in the fall. As flowers die and the weather grows colder, food becomes scarce. Bees and wasps come out in large numbers to prepare their queen for the winter.

If you get between bees or wasps and their food source, you may get stung. The same is true if you get too close to their hive. Yellow jacket wasps are the worst because – unlike bees —  they can sting multiple times.

The National Pest Management Association says stinging insects send more than half a million people to the emergency room each year. What’s more, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says some two million people are at risk of experiencing a life-threatening allergic reaction to insect stings.

When to visit the ER

Most bee or wasp stings can be treated at home, but if you suffer an allergic reaction or are stung multiple times you should visit the nearest emergency room. How do you know if you are having a life-threatening allergic reaction? Here are some signs and symptoms.

  • Skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue
  • A week, rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Loss of consciousness

You should call 911 at the first sign of an allergic reaction. If you have a known allergy to bee stings, use your epinephrine auto injector, then call 911.

When to contact a doctor: 

If you are stung multiple times, you should also seek medical treatment because venom can accumulate in the body, causing a toxic reaction. Seek care if you feel ill after having been stung more than 5 stings for 10 pounds of weight. Multiple stings are especially dangerous for children, older adults, and people with heart or breathing problems.

Some people may have a more severe reaction to a bee sting that is still considered normal and safe. For example, a large, swollen welt and extreme redness may appear around the sting site in the days following a bee sting. As long as the reaction is confined to the sting site and does not spread to other areas of the body — the reaction is considered moderate,  and no medical attention is necessary.

At Home Remedies

Even if your bee sting does not require a hospital visit, it can hurt…a lot. Luckily, there are things you can do at home to help ease the pain.

Bees, not wasps, leave stingers, so the first thing you should do is remove the stinger by scraping it off with a fingernail or credit card. Bee stings create  a sharp pain that can last for up to five minutes. After the initial pain fades, a red bump may appear that is sore to the touch for several days. The area stung will most likely itch and swell as well. A great home remedy for a bee sting is to mix baking soda with a little bit of water and apply to the bite site. Hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl, ibuprofen and ice can also provide some relief.