How to Treat a Bee Sting

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on May 14, 2024
9 min read

The treatment of bee and wasp stings depends on their severity. The majority of problems that require medical attention come from an allergic reaction to the sting. In most cases, complications from that reaction respond well to medications when given in time.


Insects that pollinate plants play an important part in our food system, because they are essential to growing many fruits and vegetables. But insect stings can be painful, and in some cases, dangerous.

Avoiding bee stings

Here are some steps you can take to avoid being stung: 

Keep away. Bees can be defensive if you get too close to their nests. Stay 10-20 feet away. 

Mow carefully. Avoid running over nests with your lawnmower.

Ride safely. Don't ride horses near known honey bee nests.

Keep kids away. Don't let children disturb nests, including throwing rocks or poking nests with sticks.

Dress suitably. Clothes with bright colors and floral patterns can attract bees. Wear long pants and closed shoes if you're going to an area where you expect bees. Avoid loose clothing when working outside; bees can get trapped between your clothes and skin.

Skip the scent. Floral fragrances in perfumes, toiletries, and cosmetics can attract bees.

Watch your drink. Bees are attracted to sugary drinks such as sodas. They can land on the glass and sting if you're not aware of them.

Don't run. If you're surrounded by bees, stand still. This will keep them calm. They may fly away without stinging.

Wear repellant. Bug spray intended to keep mosquitoes from biting you also can repel bees.

Limit attractions. Keep food and trash outside tightly covered. Clear away rotting fruits. Remove animal feces, because it attracts flies, which can, in turn, attract wasps.

Shut your car windows. If you keep the windows rolled up, bees can't get into your car while you're driving.

Call a pro. If you have hives or nests near your home, have them removed by someone who specializes in it.

Know the difference. Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are other types of stinging insects. They can make nests in the ground or on trees or buildings. They're aggressive about protecting their nests. They can sting you more than once, unlike bees.

First aid for people with bee and wasp sting allergies

About 3% of adults and 0.5% of children are allergic to stings. Here are the steps you need to take after someone who is allergic has been stung:

  • Remove any stingers right away. They have venom and will release it for several seconds after it goes in. Some experts recommend scraping out the stinger with a credit card.
  • Applying ice to the site may provide some mild relief. Apply ice for 20 minutes once every hour as needed. Wrap the ice in a towel or keep a cloth between the ice and the skin to avoid freezing the skin.
  • Taking an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or a nonsedating one such as loratadine (Claritin) will help with itching and swelling.
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin)for pain relief as needed.
  • Wash the sting site with soap and water. Applying hydrocortisone cream on the sting can help relieve redness, itching, and swelling.
  • If it's been more than 10 years since your last tetanus booster, get a booster within the next few days.

If you know you may be allergic, especially if you've had a severe reaction in the past when stung by a bee or wasp, seek immediate medical help. Take an antihistamine as soon as possible. If you've been prescribed epinephrine (Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, EpiPen, Symjepi, or a generic version of the auto-injector) for an allergic reaction, always carry two with you and use as directed.

First aid for people without allergies

If you're not allergic, a few simple steps should be enough. Remove the stinger, wash the wound, and apply ice. You can take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. You may want to remove jewelry or clothing that could become uncomfortably tight with swelling. If the sting affects an arm or leg, lifting the limb might reduce swelling.

If you're not sure what to do, a poison control center can provide advice. The number in the U.S. is 1-800-222-1222.

When to seek medical attention for a bee sting

A severe allergic reaction — called anaphylaxis — is a medical emergency. Signs that you should seek help right away include:

  • Swelling that spreads to other parts of your body (particularly dangerous if on the face or neck)
  • Hives, itching, or turning pale
  • Swelling of the throat or tongue
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Dizziness or fainting

If you're not allergic, you can treat most stings at home. In some cases, though, you may want to see a doctor.

Wound care for bee stings

If you have a single sting with no allergic symptoms, you may require only local wound care such as cleaning and applying antibiotic ointment. Any stingers that remain will be removed.

Medicine for bee stings

You may be given an oral antihistamine to treat itching. A doctor may also tell you to use ibuprofen (Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. If your tetanus immunization is not current, you'll receive a booster shot.

Bee sting rash treatment

If you have mild allergic symptoms such as a rash and itching over your body but no problems with breathing or other vital signs, you may be treated with an antihistamine. You also may be given steroids. In some cases, the doctor will give you an epinephrine (adrenaline) injection. Treatment may be started at the scene or in the ambulance by emergency medics. If you are doing well, you may be sent home after observation in the emergency department.

Breathing problems after bee sting

If you have a more moderate allergic reaction such as a rash all over the body and some mild problems breathing, you'll probably receive injections of antihistamines, steroids, and epinephrine. Some of these treatments may be started at the scene or in the ambulance by emergency medics. You'll probably need to be observed for a long period in the emergency department. In some cases, you may be admitted to the hospital.

Severe allergic reaction to bee sting

If you have a severe allergic reaction such as low blood pressure, swelling blocking airflow to the lungs, or other serious problems breathing, you have a true life-threatening emergency. Treatment may include placing a breathing tube into your trachea. You'll probably be given injections of antihistamines, steroids, and epinephrine. Intravenous fluids may also be given. Some of these treatments may start at the scene or in the ambulance. You will be closely monitored in the emergency department and probably will be admitted to the hospital, possibly in the intensive care unit.

Treatment after multiple stings

If you disturb a nest or hive, there's a chance you could be stung repeatedly. A few stings aren't a serious problem if you're not allergic. But if you're stung a dozen times or more, a lot of venom can build up in your body. You might need prolonged observation in the emergency department or admission to the hospital. The doctor might order multiple blood tests.

Bee sting in the mouth or throat

If you are stung inside the mouth or throat, you may need to remain in the emergency department for observation, or you may need more intensive management if complications develop.

Bee sting on the eyeball

If you are stung on the eyeball, you'll probably need to be evaluated by an eye doctor.

Once you've had an allergic reaction to a sting, you're at risk for a more serious reaction if you're stung again. You can take steps to avoid another reaction.

Allergy skin testing. If you’ve had a serious reaction to a bee or wasp sting, talk to your doctor about allergy skin testing. This involves scratching the skin and exposing it to purified, freeze-dried venom. This can help your doctor determine how serious your allergy is. Another option is a blood test called radioallergosorbent test (RAST), but it won't tell your doctor how severe the allergy is. It will merely confirm that an allergy exists.

Neither test is 100% reliable. About 20% of RAST tests show an allergy where none exists or fail to show an allergy that you have. Only about 20% of people who have a positive skin test will have a serious allergic reaction.

There's no need to test for a sting allergy if you've never had a reaction. However, allergies can be inherited. If you're allergic to bee stings, be aware that your child might also have a reaction if stung.

Bee sting kits. Carrying a bee sting kit can reduce your risk of a serious reaction to future stings. Your doctor can prescribe a kit, which includes the drug epinephrine. You'll need to give yourself a shot right away if you're stung again.

Make sure you know how to use the epinephrine auto-injector, and carry your kit with you all the time. People close to you also should learn how to use the auto-injector, so they can help you if you can't give yourself the shot.

Medical alert bracelets. Medical alert bracelets and necklaces let others know about your medical condition if you're not able to communicate in an emergency. Consider wearing one that describes your allergy.

Venom immunotherapy. 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.

What attracts bees?

Bees like scents that mimic flowers. That could be your perfume, aftershave, sunscreen, shampoo or other toiletries, or cosmetics. They like floral-print clothing and are attracted to shiny things such as jewelry and buckles. Beekeepers wear all-white clothing when they're around hives.

Bee and wasp stings can be painful, but unless you're allergic, they're unlikely to cause major health problems. You can treat a sting at home by removing the stinger, cleaning the wound, and applying ice to reduce swelling. If you have any signs of an allergic reaction, such as a rash, swelling to other parts of your body, or trouble breathing, you need immediate medical care. Once you've had an allergic reaction to a sting, reactions to future stings could be more serious. Talk with your doctor about steps to prevent a serious reaction.

What's the best treatment for a bee sting?

If you're stung, try to remove the stinger right away. Then wash the wound and apply ice to prevent swelling. You may want to take an antihistamine to relieve itching or an OTC pain reliever for your discomfort. Watch for signs of an allergic reaction and seek help right away if you see signs of a reaction.

What neutralizes bee stings?

Topical home remedies that might help with bee stings include:

  • A paste of baking soda and water
  • A paste of meat tenderizer and water
  • A wet teabag

Studies have shown that aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties that might soothe a sting. There's not much research to suggest how well other home remedies work.

How long does a bee sting last?

Once you remove the stinger, you should see some improvement in your symptoms. Within a few hours, your symptoms may be mostly gone. The swelling and redness should go away in a few days, though sometimes it can take 7-10 days for the wound to completely clear up.

Is vinegar good for bee stings?

Vinegar is another home remedy touted for bee stings. But vinegar is acidic and can burn your skin, so it may not be the best choice. 

What is the best treatment for a wasp sting?

Treat a wasp sting the same way you would a bee sting — remove the stinger, clean the wound, and apply ice. Watch for any signs of allergic reaction.

Will Benadryl help a wasp sting?

Yes, if the symptoms are mild, an antihistamine such as Benadryl will help.

How long does a wasp sting last?

If you're not allergic, a wasp sting should completely clear up within a week.