Bee Stings: How to Treat them and when to get Help

By: Charles C. Santilukka, DO, Aurora Health Care

Getting stung by a bee, hornet, or wasp might terrify you as much as it does your kids. If you aren’t allergic to bee stings, a single sting is usually nothing more than an annoyance. It causes temporary pain, swelling, a small white spot where you were stung, along with redness and itching.

To relieve symptoms and prevent infection, it’s best to treat your sting right away. Hornet and wasp stings can be handled the same way as bee stings, but these insects don’t lose their stingers and have the ability to sting you multiple times.

Treating a Bee Sting

Everyone can follow the first four steps below to treat their stings. Depending on the severity of the sting, the last two may or may not be necessary.

  • Get away from the bee and try to remain clam. Going inside will stop you from being stung by other bees in the area. Panicking can make your symptoms worse and harder for you to treat.
  • Remove the stinger right away. Taking the stinger out quickly can stop the venom from getting in your wound and worsening your reaction. Remove the stinger by scraping it out with a finger nail or a sharp-edged object like tweezers.
  • Clean the wound with soap and water. Wash it two to three times a day until it’s healed to prevent infection.
  • Apply an icepack. This will help reduce swelling and pain. Put a towel in between your skin and the icepack to avoid ice burn.
  • Use a topical cream or lotion such as calamine or hydrocortisone. It’ll provide relief from the redness, itching, and swelling.
  • Take over-the-counter medications. An antihistamine such as Benadryl can give you stronger relief from itching and swelling that won’t go away, and an acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can ease the pain. If you have any questions about a medication or the best products available to treat your symptoms, talk to a pharmacist.

Home Remedies Worth a Try

These remedies don’t have much scientific backing, but they work for some people, and fall into the “can’t hurt to try” category.

  • Apply toothpaste or freshly crushed parsley leaves to the wound to neutralize acid in the venom.
  • Rub it with a slice of raw onion to draw out toxins and prevent infection.
  • Crush a bit of peeled potato and apply it to sooth inflammation.
  • Use plain lemon juice or a paste of baking soda and vinegar to reduce itching.

Emergency Situations

Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a severe allergic reaction that happens to people who are allergic to something (like bee venom) when they get exposed to it. Symptoms can range from swelling of the tongue or throat and trouble breathing to loss of consciousness.

If you or someone you’re around shows any symptoms of anaphylactic shock, call 911 immediately. Things can get very bad in as little as 15 minutes.

People who know they’re allergic to insect stings should carry epinephrine injector pens (EpiPen®) to prevent their reaction from getting worse. Use it right away, even before there are symptoms of shock.

Aside from anaphylactic shock, there are other situations that can require special attention. For example, stings in the mouth, throat, nose, or ears can cause serious swelling. If this happens, watch the area that’s been stung and get help the minute symptoms become serious.

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