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What should you do if a bee stings you?

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

Bee and wasp stings are common and painful. In most cases, they are not severe, but some people can have a life threatening reaction.

The most common bee sting is from honeybees, but some wasps and other insects can also sting. In the United States, yellow jacket wasps produce the insect sting that is most likely to cause an allergic reaction.

The bee’s stinging apparatus consists of a sac of venom attached to a barbed stinger.

The wasp’s is similar but with a smooth stinger. When a bee or wasp stings, the sac contracts, pumping venom into the tissue.

The information below refers to bee stings, but it applies to stings from both bees and wasps. The symptoms, treatments, and dangers are the same.


A bee sting usually causes a sharp pain and a puncture wound or laceration in the skin.

The venom in a bee or wasp sting induces a local toxic reaction at the site of the attack.

A typical local reaction to a bee or wasp sting produces the following symptoms:

  • instant pain at the site of the sting that is sharp, burning, and usually lasts a few seconds

  • a swollen, discolored mark that can be itchy, burning, and painful

  • swollen hives or welts that peak about 48 hours after the sting and last for up to 1 week

Some stings may produce the following symptoms, which doctors call a large local reaction:

  • extreme discoloration and swelling that affects an area of the skin up to 10 centimeters (cm) across

  • swelling of an entire extremity or limb, which may last a few days

  • in the case of multiple stings, there may be a rash, fever, nausea, and headaches

  • rarely, swelling and pain in the joints, which tend to develop after several days

Multiple stings can be fatal for children.

In some people, components of the venom can cause an allergic reaction.Someone who knows that they are allergic to stings may carry an epinephrine injector. A bystander can help the person administer this injection if necessary.

What to do Things that a person or bystander should do include:

Staying with the person to watch out for signs of a severe reaction
  • Calling for urgent medical help if there are signs of an allergic reaction

  • Removing the stinger promptly if it remains in the skin, as honey bee stingers continue to inject venom

  • Remaining calm and moving to another area, as wasps and hornets do not usually leave a stinger, meaning that they can sting again

  • Washing the site of the sting with plain soap and water

  • Applying a cold compress — for example, a cloth-wrapped ice pack, frozen peas, or a cold cloth — to reduce swelling

  • People can remove the stinger by wiping it with a piece of gauze or scraping a fingernail, piece of card, or bank card over it.

Things to avoid doing include:

  • Squeezing the stinger or using tweezers in an attempt to remove it, as this can lead to the injection of more venom

  • Scratching the sting, which could aggravate the problem and lead to an infection

  • Applying calamine lotion, vinegar, or bicarbonate of soda, which will not neutralize the venom because it will be deep within the tissues

  • Bursting any blisters that develop, as doing so can lead to infection


Most reactions to a sting are mild to moderate and do not involve a severe allergy. However, some symptoms that develop after a bee sting signal a severe allergic reaction and need urgent medical attention.

Without treatment, anaphylactic shock may occur very quickly.

This can be fatal.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:

  • hives

  • swelling of the face or mouth

  • wheezing

  • fast, shallow breathing

  • a fast heart rate

  • clammy skin

  • anxiety or confusion

  • dizziness

  • vomiting

  • blue or white lips

  • fainting or loss of consciousness

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.

  2. Dial 995 or the number of the nearest emergency department.

  3. Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.

  4. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.

Individuals who have had an allergic reaction to a sting in the past have a 60% risk of having a similar or worse reaction to a sting in the future.

They may want to carry a "bee sting kit" with an EpiPen, a device that provides an adrenaline shot. This injection constricts blood vessels, increasing blood pressure and reduce swelling.

It also encourages the heart to pump more blood to important organs. These effects assist the body in dealing with the reaction while a person waits for medical assistance.

A sting can sometimes get infected. If the afflicted region has pus discharge or there is an increase in pain, swelling, or discolouration, it is critical to see a doctor.


Most bee stings may be treated without seeking medical assistance, although the following things may help alleviate the pain:

  • aspirin or acetaminophen

  • sprays or creams that contain anesthetic

  • antihistamine creams or oral antihistamines

These are available over the counter from a pharmacy, or a doctor may prescribe them.

If the local response is strong enough, physicians may prescribe oral corticosteroids for 3-5 days.

When to See a Doctor

If a person experiences wheezing, swelling, or other signs of anaphylaxis, or if they are at high risk of having an allergic response, they should seek immediate medical attention.

People who do not experience an allergic response may not need to see a doctor. However, if an insect sting causes blistering, significant swelling, or evidence of infection, such as pus, it is preferable to see a doctor.

If the symptoms do not resolve within a few days, get medical attention.


Some simple precautions can lessen the likelihood of being stung by a bee.

People should take the following steps:

  • wearing light-colored, silky clothes that is not too baggy keeping clothing clean and personal hygiene since perspiration may irritate bees wearing shoes

  • Using a professional service to remove nests near your house

  • keeping the home clean, especially in areas where there is food covering food containers and trash cans drinking sweet drinks with wide-brimmed cups, as they make insects easier to see using repellent products, such as non-harmful traps exercising caution during activities such as garden trimming, which could disturb a nest

The following behaviors may increase the likelihood of a sting:

  • donning brightly colored and flowered attire and utilizing floral or banana-scented perfumes, cosmetics, and toiletries

  • putting on loose clothes that can catch bees and insects

  • putting on open-toed shoes


Most bee and wasp stings induce swelling and discolouration, which peak 48 hours after the sting.

The first scorching feeling and agony generally lasts no more than 1-2 hours. Discoloration might last up to three days, and swelling can last up to a week.


Bee and wasp stings can produce discolouration, swelling, and a burning feeling that can extend up to 10 cm in diameter.

Most sting symptoms peak around 48 hours, although swelling can last up to a week. People who exhibit symptoms of a severe allergic response, such as face swelling and trouble breathing, require rapid medical attention.

To treat stings, people can utilize over-the-counter and prescription drugs like as antihistamines.

Wearing floral-scented fragrances and bright colors are two ways to avoid bug bites.

Insect allergies. (2015).
Insect bites and stings: Overview. (2019).
Insects and scorpions. (2018).
Stinging Hymenoptera: Pictorial key to some common United States families. (n.d.).
Wright, B. (2021). Bee and wasp stings.

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