How to Remove a Bee Stinger in the Skin

If you don't see a stinger, is it under the skin?

Apis mellifera (honey bee) - the stinger of a black honey bee, torn from the bee's body
Paul Starosta / Getty Images

When you're stung by a bee and don't see the stinger, does it mean it's hiding under your skin?

The answer is no. There's no stinger under the skin. If the bee left a stinger behind, you would see it.

Only a few species of bees have barbed stingers that stick to the skin. A few yellow jackets also have small barbs on their stingers, but they're not big enough to catch in the skin. Different species of bees and wasps are going to have differently sized stingers.

The bees with sharply barbed stinger, those that leave a venom sac and stinger behind, are only female worker honeybees. These are the bees that we think of when we consider how to take the stinger out.

The Best Way to Remove a Bee Stinger

There's some controversy surrounding the best method for removing a bee stinger. Some say it needs to be scraped out to avoid squeezing more venom into the skin. Others say just grab and pull. You probably don't care about the controversy so much and just want to know the best way to remove it.

The best way to remove a bee stinger is to pull it out, or brush it off, or scrape it off. Basically, remove it in whatever way you can. It doesn't matter how you remove a bee stinger, what matters is how quickly you remove it.

There's no evidence that one way of removing a bee stinger is better than another. There is only one published study that looks at the issue.

It compares the difference in reactions between bee stingers that were removed by pulling and bee stingers that were scraped off. It's not a great study because it was a very small number of stings being compared, but it concluded that there isn't a significant difference.

In that study, the only thing that mattered was time.

Pinching the stinger and pulling it out didn't cause more of a reaction than scraping it off with a credit card. What did cause a bigger reaction was leaving the stinger in the skin longer.

The moral of the story is to do what animals do: Get the stinger out! When animals get stung, they don't reach into their wallets for their library card to scrape out the stinger. They bite it off or rub up against a tree or scratch with their paws. Animals instinctively know that if it hurts it needs to go, the sooner the better.

Can a Bee Sting Be Dangerous?

Unfortunately for most people who are allergic to bee stings, they only find out by getting stung. If you're stung by a bee and the bump (called a weal) swells up large and turns red, watch for redness and swelling spreading out away from the weal. Spreading, swelling, or fever (meaning it feels hot) can be signs of infection or allergy.

Be aware of any itching or burning on skin that's not touching the weal, or of trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, scratchy throat, dizziness, or weakness after the sting. Any of these signs and symptoms could indicate anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction). Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment.

If you know you are allergic to bee stings, you should be carrying epinephrine, a form of adrenaline used to treat severe anaphylaxis. If you're not the one stung and happen to be carrying an epinephrine auto-injector, help the patient use the auto-injector as soon as they begin to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis.

Are All Bee Stings Treated the Same Way?

People who are allergic to bee stings will most likely be allergic to all bee species. Treat all bee stings the same: You don't have to worry about removing a stinger if you don't see one. The way that stingers and venom sacs are shaped leads to the fact that it is really hard to get a stinger under the skin.

In the unlikely case that part or all of a stinger has become lodged underneath the skin, it will probably work its way out over a few days much like a splinter. If the swelling doesn't go down after a couple of days, you may need to see a doctor to rule out or confirm a possible infection.

A Word From Verywell

In most cases, although it may cause panic, a bee sting that leaves a stinger in your skin is no big issue. Simply get rid of it—how doesn't matter, just that you do.

If you are allergic to bee stings, make sure to see a doctor right away if you think there is a stinger still in the skin. It's the exception to the rule.

Sources:

Abtahi, S., Razmjoo, Abtahi, Roomizadeh, & Mohammadi. (2011). Management of corneal bee sting. Clinical Ophthalmology, 1697. doi:10.2147/opth.s26919

Cooper RA, Goldberg PL. Should x-rays be ordered to find a bee's stinger? Pediatr Emerg Care. 1988 Sep;4(3):205-6.

Farrar, C.L. "The Life of the Honey Bee." American Bee Journal. Vol. 108, No.2, 1968.

Visscher PK, Vetter RS, Camazine S. "Removing bee stings." Lancet. 1996 Aug 3;348(9023):301-2.

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