How to Treat Bee Stings
Time Required: Under 2 hours
A hazard of doing yard work and outdoor chores is the occasional attack from bees, wasps or other stinging insects. Bee and wasp stings can be painful, causing short-term soreness and long-term itchiness, as well as more adverse reactions in people allergic to them. This guide reviews how to treat bee stings, symptoms of bee stings and how to avoid getting stung in the first place.
Tip: Take no medication without reading the directions for dosage and other factors.
- The first step in treating a sting is to remove the stinger as quickly as possible. Honeybees leave a stinger in the skin, while bumblebees and wasps, including yellow jackets, do not. Removing a stinger quickly can minimize the amount of bee venom in your system.
- Find the stinger, which should resemble a dark splinter and be at the center of any red welt or rash that’s developed.
- Scrape the stinger loose with your fingernails or a credit card. Avoid squeezing the stinger, which can send residual bee venom into your system.
Tip: If the stinger is on your back or otherwise out of reach, ask a family member or friend to remove it if one is available.
Bee sting first aid at home involves treating the pain, redness and itchiness caused by stinging insects.
- First, wash the area of the sting with soap and cold water, which can soothe the pain and remove residual venom from the skin.
- Apply a cold compress to the area. Wrap ice or a cold pack in a cloth or towel so it doesn’t directly touch the skin. Apply for 20 minutes and then as needed for pain and swelling.
- If you’ve been stung on your arm or leg, elevate it to reduce swelling and pain.
Tip: Avoid scratching the sting area, which can make the itchiness worse.
Topical remedies can alleviate the pain, itching and swelling of a bee sting, especially in the short term.
- Store bought remedies include hydrocortisone cream and calamine lotion, applied as directed.
- A popular home remedy is a baking soda paste made with one tablespoon of baking soda and enough water or vinegar to give it a pasty consistency. Some suggest that a dash of meat tenderizer can increase its effectiveness. Applying this to the area quickly can possibly draw out some of the toxins. Cover with a bandage after application.
- Other home remedies for bee stings include applying small amounts of honey or toothpaste to the area. Using a fresh-cut onion is also suggested.
- For the soreness and swelling, many doctors recommend such oral pain relievers as ibuprofen or acetaminophin.
- To reduce the itchiness, consider taking an oral antihistamine.
Tip: When using a topical remedy, use one at a time and give them a chance to work. For instance, don’t mix a store-bought ointment with a home-made baking soda paste.
Some people develop sensitivity to bee stings over time or may be allergic to some kind of stings but not others, so monitor your reaction closely. Allergic reactions usually occur quickly and can include such signs and symptoms as:
- Rapid pulse
- Severe itching
- Swelling of tongue and throat
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
If you have a severe allergic reaction or know that you are allergic, call an emergency number or seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- If you know you have an allergy, follow the recommended bee sting allergy treatment.
- If your doctor has recommended using an epinephrine injector following a bee sting, press it against your thigh and hold it for a few seconds to avoid anaphylactic shock. Have someone else do it if you’re not able.
- Wait for emergency assistance.
If you want to avoid insect stings, you can take more steps than avoiding beehives and wasp nests when you’re working outside or enjoying the outdoors.
- Be wary when walking barefoot, as bees and wasps are sometimes on the ground.
- Insects can be attracted by food or sugary beverages, so cover your food during a picnic and avoid drinking from open soda cans. In addition, avoid uncovered garbage cans.
- Know that sweet-smelling hair products, perfumes and other products can attract bees.
- White, yellow and bright floral shirts are more likely to attract bees than more muted colors.
- If you find hives or wasp’s nest in your yard close to where people can be often stung, consider calling an exterminator or even a beekeeper to get rid of it safely.
For most people, bee and wasp stings will not require medical attention. If you get stung, taking the appropriate steps of bee sting first aid can control such symptoms as pain, swelling and itchiness. Insect stings shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the great outdoors.