Stung by a Bee

If I don't see a stinger is it still under the skin?

Bee Stinger next to Dime
The dime is just under 18 milimeters across. The stinger is just about 3. (c) Rod Brouhard

Question

After being stung by a bee, if I don't see a stinger is it still under the skin?

A reader told a story of being stung by a bee and not seeing the stinger when he looked. He wanted to know: does that mean the stinger is still under the skin?

Answer

Very unlikely.

Only a few species of bees have barbed stingers. The bees with sharply barbed stingers that leave a venom sac and stinger behind are only female worker honeybees.

A few yellowjackets 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.

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.

Be aware of any itching or burning on skin not touching the weal, or of trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, scratchy throat, dizziness or weakness after the sting. Trouble breathing or weakness may indicate anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction).

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. In the unlikely case 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.

Source:

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

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