Understanding Bee Stings -- Diagnosis & Treatment

How Do I Treat a Bee Sting?

Try to remove the stinger immediately. It contains venom and will release it into your body for several seconds after it goes in. Scrape a fingernail across the stinger to help remove it from your skin. Clean the area with soap and water.

If you only have a reaction at the sting site, a cold compress or an ice pack should be enough treatment.

For pain, take aspirin, an anti-inflammatory like Advil, or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Don’t give aspirin to a child under age 19 because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, which affects the liver and brain.

Try diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or another nonprescription antihistamine to calm the itch. Or you can use an over-the-counter steroid cream.

How to Handle a Severe Reaction

If you have several stings or a severe allergic reaction, you’ll probably need medical help.

If you have a serious reaction called anaphylactic shock, call 911. The symptoms are:

If you have a severe allergic reaction, or a known bee sting allergy, make sure you have prescribed epinephrine injections handy. Autoinjectors, or pens, are made to be easy to use. Inject yourself or your friend or family member right away. After you take the shot, call 911 right away for more treatment. If your doctor has prescribed an auto-injector for you, carry two at all times.

Don’t wait to use the auto-injector if you start to have symptoms of anaphylaxis. Even if what you’re feeling turns out to not be allergy related, using it won’t harm you.

How Do I Know if I'm Allergic?

Most people have minor reactions -- a little pain or itching; maybe a welt. If yours is like this, your doctor can tell if you’re allergic to bees or wasps with a simple skin test that uses purified, freeze-dried venom.

But if you had a severe or anaphylactic reaction, he may do a blood test called a RAST instead. It’s safer for you, though it takes more time and is more expensive.

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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 give yourself the shot). You should also wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that describes your allergy.

If you’ve had a severe reaction and a positive venom skin test, you might try venom immunotherapy. You’ll get a weekly series of shots of purified venom. It can prevent a future anaphylactic reaction.

You can also lower your odds of a sting 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 cook or eat outdoors.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on May 11, 2018

Sources

SOURCES: 

Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 

American Academy of Allergy. 

The Food and Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. 

National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. 

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: "Bee Poison."

Medscape: “Reye Syndrome.”

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Anaphylaxis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Anaphylaxis: Symptoms.”

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