Bee Sting Reactions and How to Manage Them

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What to Do Immidiately Following a Bee Sting

If you are stung by a bee, remove the stinger as soon as possible. This will stop the flow of any more bee venom into your skin. This should be done quickly, as most of the bee venom is released in only a few seconds. There is no need for an elaborate removal method, just pull it out any way you can and as soon as you can.

Unfortunately, even if a person is able to remove the bee singer quickly, they will still likely devolop a local reaction with some degree of pain, redness, and swelling. Fewer people will also develop a systemic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Localized Reactions

The hallmark signs of a bee sting are redness at the sting site, swelling and sharp or burning pain. Thankfully, the acute symptoms of a bee sting will resolve in a few hours for most people.

Approximately 10 percent of those stung will devolop a much larger red welt over the bee sting area (over 4 inches diameter) that will resolve at a slower pace. This larger localized area of pain, redness and swelling will typically take anywhere from one to two days to develop, and then decrease in severity over the following five to ten days.

Having a more severe local reaction does not necessarliy indicate that a person will go on to develop a more serious systemic recation. However, anyone with a large local reaction should contact their physician to discuss the plan in the event that they are stung again in the future.

Treating Local Reactions

The goal in treatment of localized bee sting reactions is centered around treatment of symptoms.

Treatments typically include:

  • Application of a cold compress (typically a damp washcloth around a icepack or a frozen bag of peas will do)
  • An over the counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen
  • Non-prescription anti-histamine such as benadryl or cetirizine

As always, call your health care provider if treatment offers no relief.

Systemic Reactions

A more severe reaction to bee stings is a systemic reaction known as anaphylaxis. This potentially life-threatening condition requires immediate medical attention. A systemic reaction may occur the first time someone is stung, or during any subsequent sting, and onset of symptoms is typically very quick.

The signs and syptoms of a systemic reaction include:

  • Redness or swelling of skin distant from the sting site (for example, the face or lips may swell after being stung on the hand)
  • Hives
  • Belly cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Hoarse voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Passing out

Treating Systemic Reactions

Systemic allergic reactions to bee venom may potentially be fatal if not treated quickly. If a person experiences signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, they should get emergency medical attention as soon as possible. It is important that a person not drive themselves to the hospital as they may reach a point of unconsciousness.

Hospitals and paramedics are well equipped to offer the emergency treatment required. Typically, the first and most important treatment for a severe allergic reaction is a shot of epinephrine. Most people who know they are allergic to bee stings carry epi-pens with them while outdoors. Use these when medical care is out of reach or symptoms progress too rapidly. In any case, always follow-up with a trip to the nearest hospital.

How to Avoid Being Stung

The best treatment for bee stings is prevention. Bees are generally not aggressive when away from their hives but only become so when threatened. Additionally, a common myth about wearing cetain fragrances or colors is untrue and has little effect on bee behavior. However, keeping food and drinks covered and wiping up food and drink spills quickly may help keep bees away.

Of course one should always try to avoid disturbing a bee hive and call a bee keeping profesional when one is discovered.

If a bee is near, slowly back away and do not flail your arms. If you are being swarmed or stung, cover your mouth and nose with your hand and run inside a building or vehicle.

Next Steps if You Discover That You Are Severely Allergic to Bee Stings

If you had a severe bee sting reaction (anaphylaxis), you should see an allergy specialist to:

  • Determine how allergic to stings you are
  • Decide if you need shots to reduce your risk for future reactions
  • Learn about epinephrine autoinjections


  1. Mayo Clinic. “Bee and Wasp Stings”. Accessed from on September 21, 2010.
  2. WebMD. “Treatment of Bee and Wasp Stings”. Accessed from on September 21, 2010.