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Reactions to Bee Stings

Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants belong to the same family of insects. The honeybee stings once, leaves its stinger behind after stinging, and then dies. This is in contrast to wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets, which can sting repeatedly and do not usually lose their stingers.

Reactions to stings may include:

  • A minor reaction with a bump, or wheal, at the site of the bee sting. Pain and itching may be present and may last from a few hours to a few days.
  • Large skin reactions that involve redness and swelling extending beyond the sting site. This reaction may affect an entire limb or large area of the body.
  • Severe life-threatening allergic reactions.
  • Toxic reactions, which are more likely to occur when you have been stung 10 or more times.
  • Serum sickness, a rare reaction to stings, that causes flu-like symptoms, joint pain, and hives beginning 7 to 14 days after an insect sting.

Home treatment is usually all that is needed for minor reactions to relieve pain and itching. Severe reactions require medical treatment.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last RevisedOctober 14, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 14, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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