Spot and treat an allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting

Getting stung by a bee, especially for the first time, can be a startling experience. If you don’t know if you or your child is allergic to bees, then you need to know what types of symptoms to look out for, just in case you need to take a trip to the emergency room or doctor after the toxin enters your bloodstream. Those who know they are allergic should always have an Epipen present, but what if you get stung and your friend doesn’t know how to help? All this and more with the following expert advice for the first aid treatment for bee and wasp stings.


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  • remove the stinger when present
  • apply ice immediately
  • apply a topical corticosteroid
  • take an antihistamine
  • go straight to the emergency room when certain symptoms exist

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  • vigorously rub the affected area
  • ignore the warning signs of shock
  • forget to have your EpiPen handy
  • apply heat to a bee sting
  • forget to ask your doctor about a tetanus shot

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do remove the stinger when present

The longer the stinger remains in contact with the skin, the more time the continually injected toxin (Apitoxin) has to react. Tweezers or the edge of a credit card works best. The key is to remove the stinger as quickly as possible regardless of the means. Honey bees sting once, as their barbed stinger often detaches from the bee's' abdomen leading to the insect's death. Wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and bumble bees have the capacity for multiple stings, especially when they perceive a threat to their hive.

Do apply ice immediately

The injected toxin causes an inflammatory reaction consisting of redness and swelling. Ice cubes placed in a ziplock bag work best. Alternatively, one can use a bag of frozen vegetables on the area. The area should be iced for a couple minutes at a time every 15 minutes until the redness, pain, or swelling subside.

Do apply a topical corticosteroid

Hydrocortisone 1% cream is available over the counter (OTC) and is effective at reducing redness and relieving itch. A thin coat of the cream is applied 2 or 3 times daily. Stronger strength prescription corticosteroid creams are also available through a physician. In the case of severe reactions, oral corticosteroid (prednisone in a tapered course) may be prescribed.

Do take an antihistamine

Histamines are released from mast cells during an allergic reaction, therefore, an antihistamine will combat this reaction and reduce symptoms. The use of antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Allegra, or Benadryl are strongly recommended when you experience an unrelenting itch or hives are present.

Do go straight to the emergency room when certain symptoms exist

Localized reactions are common and manifest as brief pain (minutes to a few hours), redness (up to a couple of inches around the sting), and swelling (edema) in the proximity of the sting. In allergic individuals (1% of population), widespread symptoms may rarely lead to life threatening anaphylactic shock. Symptoms of dangerous shock include: dizziness, nausea, headaches, swelling of the limbs, difficulty breathing and lowered blood pressure. The very young are susceptible to severe reactions due to their lower body mass. The elderly, secondary to poor cardiac status, may also be at risk. If you, your child, or your elder experience any of the severe symptoms, you should go to the emergency room right away.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not vigorously rub the affected area

Rubbing the stung area will only cause the toxin to spread more quickly, particularly if the stinger is not removed as quickly as possible.

Do not ignore the warning signs of shock

While most stings are transient and mild, some individuals have severe, potentially dangerous systemic reactions. If you feel dizzy, nauseous, and or experience severe headaches, seek medical attention right away. Severe pain, expanding redness greater than several inches, swollen limbs, and unrelenting hives also warrant a visit to the doctor.

Do not forget to have your EpiPen handy

If you or anyone you know has a severe allergy to bee venom, you should make sure that the Epipen is in very close proximity at all times. The EpiPen is a form of epinephrine and is automatically injected into the skin to reverse severe and widespread reactions in susceptible people. It has an auto injector mechanism, so simply pressing firmly against the skin of the thigh will release the epinephrine into the skin. The EpiPen Jr. is also available for children weighing between 33 and 66 pounds.

Do not apply heat to a bee sting

You should not apply heat to the area stung by the bee. Heat is a vasodilator which will promote the opening of blood vessels. Using heat increases blood flow and allows the toxin to spread faster. Instead of alleviating inflammation, you will only exacerbate to reaction. Home remedies such as applying toothpaste, salt, or tobacco are unproven treatments and shouldn’t be used. Ice, which is a vasoconstrictor and constricts blood flow, is advised in order to help slow down the spreading of the toxin.

Do not forget to ask your doctor about a tetanus shot

If you aren’t current with your immunization, you should ask your doctor about getting a tetanus shot. Tetanus is caused by an ubiquitous bacteria found in nature. This type of bacteria can be introduced through a puncture wound such as a nail and though rarely, a bee stinger.


Keep in mind this advice if you are stung by a bee so that you are prepared for anything. Contact your doctor if you are unsure about your allergies or you aren’t up to date with your tetanus shot, and make sure you go to the emergency room right away if any of the above severe symptoms are present.

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