There are no conventional medicines to ease the pain of a sting from a bee, wasp, or yellow jacket (other than all-purpose pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen or NSAIDs — but those are not very helpful).
Obviously, anyone who is allergic to insect stings needs emergency medical treatment and probably should have a prescription EpiPen on hand for immediate self-treatment.
Fortunately, most people don’t suffer life-threatening reactions, but a sting can hurt like the dickens. So what do you do?
For a bee sting, the first step is to remove the stinger. You can usually scrape it out with the edge of a credit card rather than trying to use a tweezer.
(Wasps don’t leave stingers behind, so for wasp or yellow jacket stings, you can skip this step.)
Meat tenderizer hasn’t been around as long as raw onions, but it has quite a long history as a remedy for the pain of stings.
In fact, Joe wrote about it back in 1976, in the original edition of The People’s Pharmacy. He had found a reference in the Journal of the American Medical Association in which Harry L. Arnold, M.D., recommended mixing one-quarter teaspoon of meat tenderizer with enough water to make a paste, and then apply the mixture to the stung skin (JAMA, April 24, 1972).
Readers have tried this remedy too. “I got stung by a red wasp yesterday and it felt like someone jabbed me with a hot poker,” one told us. “I’d forgotten how bad the pain from a wasp sting could be.
“My child’s pediatrician had once told me to keep meat tenderizer in a first aid kit for stings. I found some and added water to make a paste.
“When I daubed it on, it took away that intense pain almost instantly. I don’t think it helped the swelling, but it really helped the pain.”
Meat tenderizer contains papain, an enzyme from papayas that helps break down protein. Doctors have recommended applying it to stings for years so that the papain can break down the venom.
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