Why Does the Sting From a Yellow Jacket Itch?

Dealing with a yellow jacket's painful sting is frustrating, but tending to the itchy sore it leaves may seem worse. Scratch as you may, the incessant itching of this wasp's sting can often not be alleviated. These aggressive little insects certainly pack a punch, all thanks to a special venom. Just a minor amount of this troublesome toxin is enough to make most stings burn and itch without relief. Indeed, the terrible itching associated with a yellow jacket's sting comes not from its stinger, but from a venom that it makes sure to deliver personally.

Vespula vulgaris

Located throughout North America, the yellow jacket, or Vespula vulgaris, is found in great swarms and colonies. Tiny defenders of their nests, yellow jackets are fiercely protective. Stumbling upon a yellow jacket hive will immediately put you in danger of receiving multiple stings. Their nests are often found in crevices or hanging from outdoor structures, or even underground. Even worse, you may be intruded upon by yellow jackets during picnics or grill-outs, as they scour for food to take back to their hive.

The Itchy Source

The yellow jacket is a member of the Hymenoptera order of insects that includes bees, wasps and ants. Many insects in this order are known for their painful stings. Unlike bees, a yellow jacket can sting its victim multiple times. As the yellow jacket forcefully inserts its stinger into the skin, it quickly releases a venom from a special gland located in the abdomen. This venom is made of multiple components, including proteins, kinin and serotonin. As the toxins permeate the skin cells, a reaction occurs. This causes the itching that is associated with a yellow jacket's sting.


The most common reaction to a yellow jacket sting is itching, swelling and soreness of the affected area. Although the sting is immediately painful, this generally subsides into discomfort after a few minutes. The aftereffects of a yellow jacket's sting, however, will last 12 to 36 hours. Allergic reactions to a sting are much more dangerous and may require immediate medical attention. Signs of an allergic reaction to a yellow jacket's sting include a swelling of the throat, hives, chest pain, nausea and difficulty with breathing.

Treating a Yellow Jacket Sting

Unfortunately, a yellow jacket's sting cannot be immediately remedied. You do have a few options for relief, though. After washing the sting site and applying a general antibiotic ointment, use ice to cool the sting and reduce the itching sensation. Using over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen may also provide relief. Remember that scratching a sting site only agitates it further. Try to refrain for picking at the sting site; it will heal in a few days on its own.