How to Treat a Bee Sting Safely

Get Away from the Bee

Bee stinger with a drop of venom.

Once you've been stung, first, try to get away from the offending bee. Bees release a scent when in danger to attract other bees. Specifically, they release a scent when they die and when a bee stings you, it dies. If you are still around when the bee's reinforcements get there, they will sting you, too.

Take Out the Stinger

Stinging bee
Bee stinging a human. Dimas Ardian/Getty Images

Bee stings are at least painful and can be deadly if the victim is allergic to bee venom. If a bee sting victim has had any allergic reactions to bee stings in the past, they may show signs of possible anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Hornets and wasps are related to bees and their venom often cause anaphylaxis in people allergic to bee venom. Treatment of hornet and wasp stings is the same as for bees, except that hornets and wasps don't leave their stingers behind and each insect can sting multiple times. Obviously, it's slightly better to be stung by a bee rather than a wasp or a hornet. 

So when it comes to being stung by a bee, you want to remove any stingers right away. The longer a bee's stinger stays in, the more venom it can release, and the more painful for the victim. 

It is OK to pull stingers out with your fingers, brush them off or get them out any way you can. The longer bee stingers are allowed to remain in the body, the more severe the reaction will be.

Conventional wisdom says to scrape bee stingers away from the skin because pinching the venom sack could push extra venom into the victim. The truth is that how fast you get the stinger out is much more important than how you do it. The idea of scraping off a bee stinger turns out to be one of the biggest myths of first aid.

Honey bees leave a stinger behind when they sting a victim. Wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets do not leave a stinger, which means if you do not see a stinger, maybe it was never there. These relatives of the honey bee can also cause an anaphylactic reaction.

Treat Local Reactions

boy with swollen eye from bee sting
Even after antihistamines, it can still take days for a local reaction to heal. Sam Bautista

People will almost always develop local reactions to bee stings, even those folks who are not dangerously allergic. Redness, swelling, itching and pain are all common at the site of the bee sting. There are a few things you can do to try to alleviate the symptoms:

  • Use an ice pack to reduce swelling at the site, but take care not to cause frostbite
  • Use an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to reduce swelling and itching. 
  • Try ibuprofen or Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain.

Time is the best medicine. The pain will usually go away pretty quickly, but swelling and itching may last for more than a day.

When Is a Bee Sting An Emergency?

epipen epinephrine automatic injecting syringe.
Look for an EpiPen or some other type of epinephrine auto-injector. Rod Brouhard

If a person is allergic to bees, check to see if he or she is carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen). If so, help the patient use the EpiPen.

If the patient is supposed to carry an EpiPen and does not have it, call 911 immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to appear!

Even if the patient has been stung before and did not have an allergic reaction, he or she can still develop an allergy to bee stings. Watch any person closely for signs of anaphylaxis. This includes:

If there is any concern that the victim may be developing anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately. Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can slow an anaphylactic reaction, but will not reverse it. If they don't get treated by medical professionals quickly, anaphylaxis patients can die from the reaction.

What to Do About Multiple Bee Stings

Anyone who has been stung multiple times (10 is a good rule of thumb) needs to go to the emergency department. As mentioned above, there is almost always a local reaction. That means even the least allergic folks will have trouble when given enough bee venom.


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Severino M, Bonadonna P, Passalacqua G. Large local reactions from stinging insects: from epidemiology to management. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol 2009; 9:334.