How to Remove a Bee Stinger and Treat the Sting

Speed is important!

A painful bump isn't all that's left behind when you get stung by a bee. Often, the bee's stinger will remain in your skin, along with the venom sac attached to it.

While it's there, it can continue to inject venom into your body. This can make the sting worse and increase the chances of potential problems, like an allergic reaction. So it's important to get that stinger out.

Not all stings leave stingers behind. Only a few species of bees have barbed stingers that get stuck in your skin. Even in these species, it's only the female honey bees who leave them behind.

A few yellow jackets also have small barbs on their stingers, but they're not big enough to catch in your skin like bee barbs.

This article explains how to remove a bee stinger and how to treat it. It also points out the normal reactions that can occur and why you should stay alert for symptoms that may require immediate medical attention.

The stinger of a black honey bee torn from the bee's body
Paul Starosta / Getty Images

Speed Matters Most

There's some disagreement about the best method for removing a bee stinger. Some people say it must be scraped out to avoid squeezing more venom into the body. Others say it's OK to "grab and pull."

The latter method carries the potential risk of squeezing more venom out of the sac. That's why the proponents of scraping the stinger out have won the argument (at least for now).

Even some medical websites have followed suit and advise against pinching the stinger.

Little scientific study has been dedicated to the different removal methods. But one point has brought consensus: It matters less how you remove the stinger, but you need to get it out fast.

The longer you leave the stinger in, the more venom is released. So whatever you do, remove the stinger as quickly as possible.

How to Remove a Bee Stinger

Bee stings don't happen to you every day, so it's natural to feel startled when a bee sneaks up on you. It's also normal to feel an adrenaline rush, fueled by panic.

Still, it's important to calm down, focus, and direct your energy to three steps:

Inspect the Sting

The first step is to inspect the sting. It's normal to have a red bump with a dot in the center. A small, dark strand may be sticking out of it. If so, this is the stinger.

You may be able to see a bulbous tip on the top of it. If so, this is the venom sac.

Sometimes, when people don't see a stinger, they worry that it's lodged underneath their skin. This is very unlikely; the barbed shape of the stinger makes it difficult to penetrate skin.

Besides, a stinger is a bee's "last line of defense." Once used, the bee usually dies.

If you can't see the stinger, assume there isn't one and treat the sting without worrying about it.

Pull the Skin Tight

If you know or suspect you have a stinger, pull your skin tight so you can get a good look at the area.

A taut surface also should make it easier to remove the stinger.

Scrape or Pull the Stinger

Once you've found the stinger, scrape it off with your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, or anything similar you have on hand.

If you're having difficulty isolating the stinger, try using a pair of tweezers to pull it out.

Severe Reaction Symptoms

After a sting, be alert for symptoms such as trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, scratchy throat, dizziness, or weakness. Any of these could indicate anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment.

Reactions to Bee Stings

Normal reactions to a bee sting include:

  • Instant, intense pain
  • Redness at the site
  • Itchiness at the site
  • Swelling at the site

While unpleasant, these symptoms are not cause for alarm. It's a different story if the symptoms begin popping up away from the sting site.

In this case, you could be in the midst of a dangerous, whole-body allergic reaction that requires emergency medical treatment. Call 911 without delay.

If you know you're allergic to bee stings, you should always carry epinephrine, a form of adrenaline used to treat severe anaphylaxis. It could save your life.

Most people, obviously, don't know they are allergic to bee stings until they get stung and have a reaction.

If you witness someone having an allergic reaction and you happen to be carrying an epinephrine auto-injector, you could save their life by giving them an injection as soon as you recognize the symptoms.

Treat the Sting

Once the stinger is out and you know you're not having a severe reaction, it's time to treat the sting by:

  • Washing the area with antibacterial soap and water
  • Applying a cold compress to reduce inflammation
  • Taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory (like Advil or Aleve)

Under Your Skin

In the unlikely case that part or all of a stinger has become lodged underneath your skin, it will probably work its way out in a few days, just like a splinter. If the swelling doesn't go down during this time, ask a doctor to check it for infection.

Home Remedies

Home remedies can ease the pain, itching, and swelling of a bee sting. Many of these aren't backed by science, but many people claim they work. And they're harmless, so they may be worth a try:

  • Apple cider vinegar: The theory is that vinegar neutralizes venom and helps reduce swelling. Try soaking a washcloth in vinegar and placing it on the sting for 15 minutes.
  • Baking soda: A baking soda paste (1/4 cup baking soda mixed with 1 or 2 tablespoons of water) may help neutralize the sting and reduce inflammation.
  • Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream: These creams have long been used to treat itching due to many causes, including stings.
  • Honey: It's ironic, but honey can reduce swelling from bee stings, kill germs, and speed up healing. Apply just a little to the sting area.
  • Toothpaste: Some people claim toothpaste can neutralize bee venom. Try dabbing some onto the sting.
  • Topical pain creams: Some products are marketed specifically for bee stings while others treat pain in general.

Different Insect Stings

Honey bees, bumblebees, wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets all come from the same family (the hymenoptera family) and can sting.

The stings themselves are quite similar and, unless there's a stinger left behind, it may be impossible to tell them apart. Since most of these insects don't lose their stinger, they can sting multiple times.

TYPE  LEAVE STINGER? MULTIPLE STINGS? AGGRESSIVE? 
Honey bees Yes No No
Bumblebees  No Yes No
Wasps No Yes  Yes
Yellowjackets  No  Yes  Yes 
Hornets No Yes Yes

Someone with multiple stings may experience severe symptoms due to the amount of venom in their system. These symptoms include:

  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Seizure

Some wasps can bite in addition to stinging, and their bite can be quite painful. Call 911 immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Summary

A bee sting is usually startling because it happens out of the blue. But time is of the essence, so snap back to reality and check the area for a stinger. If you find it, remove it immediately.

It doesn't matter how you do it—by scraping it out or yanking it. The longer the stinger remains, the more venom is released, and the worse the sting will be. Afterward, your skin will probably look red and feel irritated. So try some home remedies to ease your discomfort.

A Word From Verywell

Try to set your fear aside and focus on getting rid of a stinger. It's crucial that you do so immediately. If you don't see a stinger, start treating some of the symptoms. If you're allergic to bee stings and think a stinger is too deep for you to remove (which is rare), get medical attention right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens if you don’t remove a bee stinger?

    Venom will continue to enter your body if you leave a stinger in. This can cause swelling, pain, and possibly dizziness, nausea, breathing problems, or other symptoms. Leaving the stinger in your skin also increases the risk of infection.

  • Which is worse, a bee sting or wasp sting?

    It depends on how your body reacts. Both release venom that causes swelling and pain, and both might result in severe reactions, including anaphylaxis. A bee stinger usually stays lodged in the skin, releasing venom continuously until it’s removed. Wasps don’t leave their stingers behind, but they can sting repeatedly. So you also face a risk of repeated venom injections.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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