A Bee Stung Me. Am I Allergic?

For most people, a bee sting hurts for a few hours and then gets better. If you’re allergic, you may have a more serious reaction.

Some people get severe swelling at the site of the sting. A few have life-threatening symptoms, even if they've never before had an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

The riskiest symptoms to watch for are:

If you have these symptoms, use an epinephrine shot (Auvi-Q or Epi-Pen) if you carry them with you -- always have two on hand. Then call 911 immediately. You still need to go to the hospital, even if the shot seemed to work.

Use the epinephrine auto-injector if you have any symptoms of anaphylaxis. Even if it turns out to be something else, using the medicine as a precaution won’t harm you.

If you've never had a severe reaction to a sting before, and you just have itching, redness, and swelling right around the sting site, but are otherwise OK:

  • Cool the hurt area with ice off and on (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off). Use a towel. Don’t put ice directly on your skin and don’t use heat.
  • Raise the area of the sting to reduce swelling.
  • Take an antihistamine and use a hydrocortisone cream to ease swelling and itching.

Lower Your Risk

To prevent stings:

  • Avoid wearing sandals or walking barefoot in the grass.
  • Don’t swat at or run from bees. Gently brush them away or wait for them to leave on their own.
  • Don’t drink from open soda or cans. They attract bees.
  • Cover outdoor garbage cans with tightly fitting lids.
  • Avoid sweet-smelling perfumes and colognes and brightly colored clothing, which attract insects.
  • Be careful when you do yard work. Wear socks, shoes, and gloves.
  • Use screens on doors and windows.
  • Keep car windows closed.
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves outdoors.

If you're allergic to bee stings, ask your doctor if you should carry epinephrine shots with you. Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.

Also talk to your doctor about allergy shots, or "immunotherapy." It’s a way to very slowly get your body used to an allergen, so you won’t have as bad a reaction if you’re stung again.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 21, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: “Beekeeping.”

University of Oklahoma Police Department: “Oklahoma’s Perilous Partners.”

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: “How Can I Avoid Insect Stings?”

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