Treating Bee Stings

Treating bee stings is usually a simple first aid task that can be managed at home, because stings are usually nothing more than a minor, short-lived, if admittedly, uncomfortable experience.

How should you go about treating bee stings?

Firstly, if you are concerned, for example, due to severe reactions, or because the sting is in a sensitive area, always seek medical attention.  There is further in-depth information on my page about allergic reactions to bee stings and advice about what  to do.

If your child may have been stung, or your dog, see the information below about what to do in these situations.

But let’s take a quick look at bee stings in general, in which case, simple first aid at home should be sufficient.

What does a bee sting look like?

  • Depending on whether or not the sting was from a honey bee, the sting itself may remain visible in the skin.  If you were stung by a bumble bee or wasp, there will be no visible sting.

  • Within a few minutes, a white ‘bleb’ or blister will usually appear where the sting occurred, around 1 – 2cms in diameter.

  • Soon, the area may become red, and may spread out, and feel hot. Swelling may persist for around 48 hours, but possibly more. The amount of swelling is partly influenced by the location of the sting. For example, where skin is tough (such as the foot), although the sting will still be painful, less swelling will occur than in areas of softer skin, such as the neck.

Why is my sting itchy? How long will a bee sting itch?

A bee sting may hurt and it's common for a bee sting to itch for a while.  If a child has been stung, it may be a good idea to ensure the nails are cut short to avoid too much scratching, blood and then infection.  To ease the itching, try ice and/or calamine lotion if this is suitable for you.

If a severe reaction develops or symptoms do not clear or improve, seek assistance from a medical professional.

Are bee stings dangerous?

Mostly, they are painful but not dangerous.

When is a bee sting dangerous?

  • A sting inside the mouth or throat or nostril could be very dangerous due to the risk of swelling and obstruction to the airways. If this has happened, seek medical attention quickly.
  • Additionally, seek medical treatment quickly if the sting occurs close to the eye or in the ear.
  • If you are experiencing severe reactions such as shortness of breath, seek medical attention.  

First aid for bee stings:

Follow these simple steps for treating bee stings:

- If you are stung by a honey bee, part of the sting will remain in the skin. If this is the case, immediately seek to scrape this away with a clean blunt instrument, or wipe it away with the flat of the hand. It is best to remove the sting quickly, as it will continue to pump bee venom into the sting.

- An ice cube placed over the sting should help reduce the pain.

- Calamine lotion could be applied if suitable.

- Aspirin may also be useful for adults (600mg) if you are able to take this medication, however, in the UK, children under 12 should not receive aspirin according to regulation. Paracetamol may be an acceptable alternative – ask your pharmacist for advice, and consult the manufacturer's dosage instructions for medicines.

- More serious sting reactions could include nausea, vomiting, palpitations, faintness, and abdominal pains. Seek medical advice immediately. In rare cases, anaphylactic shock may occur – see below.

Should I use antihistamines, and if so, which antihistimine for bee stings?

There is some debate about the effects of antihistamines when applied to the skin. Some sources propose that repeated use could cause severe skin sensitivity and rash in some individuals, that would be worse than the sting itself.

Others propose that taking an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or a nonsedating one such as loratadine (Claritin) could help.

If in doubt, consult a relevant health care professional.

Anaphylactic shock

In very rare cases, anaphylaxis may occur (or anaphylactic shock). In such cases, a person may experience an extreme reaction to a sting that could be serious.

Common initial symptoms of anaphylaxis include nausea, vomiting, chest wheeze, confusion, falling blood pressure and unconsciousness. Note, the properties of hornet, bee and wasp stings differ.

This means that some-one who is sensitive to a hornet sting may or may not have a severe allergic reaction to a wasp or bee sting. Similarly, a bee sting may not result in the same reaction as a wasp sting.

Bee stings and children

  • Be especially vigilant if your baby, child or toddler is stung, but really  prevention is best.
  • Monitor your child's symptoms, and do not hesitate to seek medical assistance if necessary.
  • Take swift action if you are concerned that your baby, toddler or child's reaction is severe.
  • Seek assistance if your child is stung in a sensitive area.
  • For mild reactions, again, remove the stinger if present, clean the area, and apply an ice pack. 
  • If your baby is still really uncomfortable and he's 6 months old or more, the doctor may also recommend an over-the-counter children's antihistamine to help relieve any itching and swelling.
  • If your baby has had a bad reaction to a bee sting in the past, then when he or she is older, you may want to carry an EpiPen for children, which is a pen-like injection device loaded with epinephrine - discuss this with your doctor, and ensure your child wears something which could help to alert teachers or other carers if your child has an allergy, such as a charm or keyring, (even if you have already informed their class teacher). 

What to do about bee stings on a dog

See my page about dogs and bee stings for further information.

If you kill wasps you may only attract more of them.

Read about:

Preventing Wasp Stings

Treating bee stings with home remedies
If you believe your reaction to a sting is not serious, you may wish to try a natural bee sting treatment, or a home remedy.

More information
Why not take a look at these bee sting facts or if you have a fear of bees, see this page about apiphobia.

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