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Allergies Health Center

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Understanding Bee Stings -- Diagnosis & Treatment

How Is a Bee Sting Allergy Diagnosed?

Your doctor can determine if you are allergic to bee and wasp stings with a simple skin test, using purified, freeze-dried venom.

However, if you had a severe anaphylactic reaction, a blood test called a RAST -- or radioallergosorbent release test -- may be done instead. This test may be safer in this situation, though it takes more time and is more expensive.

Understanding Bee Sting Allergies

Find out more about bee sting allergies:



Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Treatments for a Bee Sting?

Try to remove the stinger immediately. The stinger contains venom which continues to be released for several seconds after a sting. Scraping a fingernail across the stinger can help remove it from the skin. Clean the area with soap and water. For reactions that just occur at the site of the sting, minimal treatment such as a cold compress or ice pack, is usually sufficient.

If you have multiple stings or a severe allergic reaction, you need emergency medical help at once.

For pain, take aspirin or acetaminophen. Do not give aspirin to a child under age 19 because of the increased risk of Reye’s syndrome.

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or another nonprescription antihistamine may be helpful if the sting is itchy. An over-the-counter steroid cream can also be used.

For anaphylactic shock, call 911. You may give yourself an injection of epinephrine from a bee-sting kit if you have been given one, but after the injection, call 911 promptly for further treatment. If a doctor has prescribed an auto-injector for you, carry two at all times. 

Do not hesitate to use the epinephrine auto-injector if you start showing symptoms of anaphylaxis. Even if the symptoms turn out to not be allergy related, using the auto-injector as a precaution will not harm you.

How Can I Prevent a Sting Reaction?

If you had a serious reaction to a bee or wasp sting, talk to your doctor about allergy skin testing. Also ask about a bee-sting kit (be sure you know how to administer a self-injection). You should also wear a Medic Alert bracelet or necklace describing your allergy.

If you have had a severe reaction to a sting and a positive venom skin test, venom immunotherapy -- a series of weekly shots of purified venom -- may help to prevent a future anaphylactic reaction.

Reduce your chances of being stung by avoiding brightly colored, white, or pastel clothing. Don't use cosmetics or perfume with floral scents. Food odors attract insects, especially yellow jackets, so be alert when you are cooking or eating outdoors.

See Understanding Bee Sting Allergies -- the Basics for more prevention tips.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 21, 2015

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