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While most people can treat themselves by icing the sting and taking an antihistamine, others may require medical intervention, as allergic reactions—which, in some cases, can be serious—can occur. Here's what you should know about preventing yellow jacket stings—and what to do if you get stung.

Keeping a safe distance from yellow jackets can help you avoid their brutal sting. You can distinguish yellow jackets by their smooth, slim appearance and long, dark wings. Though bees can also have yellow and black markings, they are usually stout and hairy with light-colored wings.

Yellow jackets are also meat-eating predators, while bees solely get nourishment from flower nectar. Yellow jackets are predators and scavengers that are readily attracted by sugars and proteins in picnic foods. If you are eating outdoors and find yourself surrounded by yellow jackets, leave the scene immediately.

Yellow jackets are naturally aggressive and will only get more aggressive if you try to shoo them away. Provoking them with smoke, insecticides, or other means may increase your chances of being stung. In addition, when provoked, yellow jackets release chemicals into the air known as pheromones, which call other yellow jackets to join them in an attack.

When a yellow jacket stings you, its stinger pierces your skin and injects a venom that causes sudden and often extreme pain. You may also develop redness and swelling around the site of the sting a few hours later.

Unlike a bee sting, a yellow jacket will not leave its stinger behind once you've been stung. As such, you won't need to pull out the stinger as you might with a bee.

If you've been stung and are experiencing pain without other symptoms, you can treat the injury by following these steps:

A number of home remedies can be also found online, including applying baking soda and water, vinegar, or commercial meat tenderizers to the site of a sting. While some people strongly believe in these do-it-yourself remedies, there is no evidence to support their effectiveness. Proceed with caution before trying any of those remedies at home.

Systemic allergic reactions to insect stings affect up to 5% of the population during their lifetime, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy.

Some insect stings can cause a potentially life-threatening allergy known as anaphylaxis. This tends to occur more with honeybees than yellow jackets since their stinging mechanism can remain embedded in the skin and continue to release venom long after the sting. Still, it is possible with a yellow jacket sting.

Overall, roughly three of every 100 people stung by an insect will experience anaphylaxis, according to 2007 research from the John Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

Anaphylaxis to an insect sting can develop at a terrifyingly rapid pace, with symptoms often appearing within five to 10 minutes. Delayed reactions, also known as biphasic anaphylaxis, are more common with food and drugs than insect stings.

If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to shock, unconsciousness, coma, asphyxiation, cardiac or respiratory failure, and death.

If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to an allergist for immunotherapy treatments (also known as allergy shots). The aim of the immunotherapy is to desensitize you to the insect venom by introducing tiny amounts into your body at regular intervals.

If successful, immunotherapy may help prevent anaphylaxis. However, it may not erase all of your allergy symptoms.

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