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Allergies Health Center

Understanding Bee Sting Allergies -- the Basics

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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. For some people, that’s more severe swelling at the site of the sting. A few people can have life-threatening symptoms -- even if they've never had an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Half of all people who die of bee sting anaphylaxis did not know that they had an allergy.

Here are the most dangerous symptoms to watch for:

Understanding Bee Sting Allergies

Find out more about bee sting allergies:

Basics

Symptoms

Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Itching, hives, or swelling over a large part of your body, as opposed to right where the sting is
  • Face, throat or tongue starts to swell
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea or diarrhea

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

If you have itching, redness, and swelling right around the sting site, but are otherwise OK:

  • Put ice on the sting 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.
  • Elevate the area of the sting to reduce swelling.
  • Take an antihistamine and use a hydrocortisone cream to relieve swelling and itching.

Reducing Your Risk

If you're allergic to bee stings, ask your doctor if you should carry epinephrine shots with you at all times. 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 -- in this case, insect venom -- so you won’t have as bad a reaction if you’re stung again.

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 bees.
  • Be careful when doing yard work. Wear socks and shoes and gloves.
  • Use screens on doors and windows.
  • Keep car windows closed when driving.
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves outdoors. Reduce the amount of exposed skin. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 31, 2014

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