how to treat insect bites

honey-bee (apis mellifera)
common wasp (vespula vulgaris)

wasp sting - the swelling begins...

whenever somebody is stung by a bee or wasp, i remember there’s a rule of thumb about a good way of instantly diminishing the effects of the poison. however, i never recollect the vital part…

from a chemical standpoint, most types of insect poison are acids, which means you can (at least partly) neutralize them with bases.
one of the exceptions to this is the family of wasps: their poison’s are bases, which can thus be countervailed with an acid.

so, the next time you witness an insect bite (and i’m crossing my fingers it won’t be you who’s getting stung), you might want to try one of these household remedies:

  • bee bite (also works with ants, mosquitoes etc.): acids – diluted vinegar, diluted lemon juice, even orange juice or carbonated soft drinks.
  • wasp bite: bases – diluted soda, baking powder, …

on a side note: the poison in most jellyfish nematocysts is also acidic. if you were stung but didn’t bring ammonia to the beach, your last resort would be urine (a relatively neutral buffer solution). the book i got all this information from says “if you think that’s too gross, you’ve never felt the pain of a real jellyfish sting.”

source (in german): Wawra E., Dolznig H, Müllner E. (2003): Chemie verstehen. Facultas Verlags- und Buchhandels AG, p. 164

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