Bee Stings

What are Bee Stings?

There are many species of bees and wasps that sting. All of these injuries are commonly called “bee stings” even if the stinger was a wasp like a yellow jacket. Some stings will include the stinger still embedded in the skin and some will not. People allergic to bee stings can possibly die from one sting unless medical intervention is undertaken as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the only way to discover if one is allergic to bee stings is to first get stung. People stung by swarms of bees generally need hospitalization. Many people consider a bee sting merely a minor pain and do not need to go to a doctor.

What are the Symptoms of Bee Stings?

Reactions to bee stings range from mild to severe.

Symptoms include

Mild symptoms

Mild symptoms include a sharp or burning pain in the stung area, swelling and reddening skin. There may be a small white spot in the stung area where the sting punched a tiny hole in the skin.

Moderate symptoms

Moderate reactions include a huge swelling in the stung area and deep reddening of the skin.

Severe symptoms

Severe reactions include vomiting, dizziness, fainting, fever, sudden onset of diarrhea and swellings in the throat or mouth, even if those places were not stung. The worst reaction is anaphylactic shock – where a patient cannot breathe and can die.

Bee Stings Causes

Bee stings occur when a bee uses its barbed stinger to jab at the skin. There is a venom in the stinger which contains proteins that affect our skin cells and immune system. This is what causes the swelling and pain in the local area around the sting.

In some instances, when people are allergic to the venom, the immune system can react dramatically in an attempt to protect the body from the venom. This causes the fever, convulsions and vomiting associated with bee sting allergies.

Bees usually sting when they feel their colony is threatened. For this reason, many bee stings occur when in close proximity to a hive, or when trying to swat bees away.

How are Bee Stings Treated?

First the wound should be checked to make sure the stinger is not still in the skin. Scrape the stinger out with a fingernail or credit card. This removes the stinger without it injecting all of the venom it contains into the skin. Clean the stung area with soap and water. A cold compress and over the counter painkillers help reduce swelling, redness and pain.

People suffering from severe allergic reactions need to be taken to the hospital or need immediate treatment by a doctor. Often they need injections of epinephrine or adrenaline. They may also need oxygen and antihistamines or corticosteroids administered intravenously.

People who have previously suffered anaphylactic shock from a bee sting need to carry an EpiPen or Twinject auto-injector at all times to prevent a re-occurrence.

Bee Stings Prevention

The best way to prevent bee stings is to avoid attracting them.

You should:

  • Avoid wearing sweet smelling fragrances from soaps, hair products, lotions and oils
  • Avoid brightly colored clothing and floral patterns in particular
  • Be diligent with food when outside; remove leftovers and spills quickly
  • Pour soda into glasses rather than drinking out of cans where bees can climb in unnoticed

If you do come into close proximity with a bee, you should try to avoid frightening it by:

  • Avoiding rapid movements
  • Gently blowing on the bee to encourage it to move

It is also possible to reduce the risk of bee stings by:

  • Wearing longs sleeves and long pants, particularly in areas where bees are likely such as fields or long grass
  • Wearing shoes outdoors and on lawns to protect feet from bees which may be on the ground
  • Wearing a hat, as this is known to reduce the risk of bee stings, possibly because bees look out for hairy or furry animals which are more likely to steal honey.
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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 15, 2017