How to Treat a Bee Sting

Start by removing the stinger ASAP

Pain and other symptoms of a bee sting can worsen if you don't work to get the stinger out quickly after you have been stung. The longer the stinger stays in your skin, the more venom it releases, adding to your pain and swelling.

This can also increase the chances of an allergic reaction.

This article will go over how to remove a bee stinger and how to treat the sting. You will also learn the normal reactions to a bee sting and the signs of a more serious reaction that needs emergency medical care.

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

What's the Best Way to Remove a Bee Stinger?

There's some disagreement about the best way to remove a bee stinger. Some people say you have to scrape it to avoid squeezing more venom into the body. Others say that it's OK to "grab and pull" on the stinger to get it out.

Most medical sources agree that removing the stinger out as fast as you can is more important than how you do it. However, scraping your nail across the stinger, or taking care not to pinch the stinger when you pull it out may prevent squeezing more venom into the skin.

How to Remove a Bee Stinger

When you get stung by a bee, you might feel shocked and panicked by the suddenness of it. Try to stay calm and follow the three steps for removing the stinger.

Look at the Sting

After you get stung, look at the sting closely. It's normal to have a red bump with a black dot in the center. If there's a small, dark strand sticking out, it's likely the stinger. You might see a bulbous tip on the top of the strand, which is the venom sac.

If you don't see the stinger, you might worry that it's stuck under your skin. However, this is not likely because the barbed shape of the stinger makes it hard for it to get through the skin.

A stinger is also a bee's "last line of defense"—once it's used, the bee dies.

If you're looking at the place where you got stung and you see no sign of a stinger, try to relax. There probably isn't one, and you were stung by an insect that doesn't leave a stinger behind.

Pull the Skin Tight

If you see the stinger, pull the skin around it right so you can get a better look. A taut surface also will make it easier to remove the stinger.

Scrape or Pull the Stinger

Once you've found the stinger, try scraping it off with your fingernail or the edge of a credit card. Avoid using tweezers to remove a stinger, as squeezing it can cause more venom to release into your skin.

What If I Can't Get the Stinger Out?

If part or all of a stinger gets stuck under your skin, it will probably work its way out in a few days, like a splinter would. If the swelling does not go down, you'll need to see a provider and make sure it's not infected.

Normal Reactions to Bee Stings

As you're working on getting the stinger out, you also need to be aware of how you're feeling. If you get stung by a bee, the skin where you got stung will be affected. Normal reactions to a bee sting include:

  • Instant, intense pain where you got stung
  • Redness where you got stung
  • Itchiness where you got stung
  • Swelling where you got stung

While unpleasant, these symptoms are normal. However, there are also signs of a potentially serious, even life-threatening, reaction to a bee sting that you should watch for.

What If I'm Stung More Than Once?

If you get multiple stings, you'll have more venom pumped into your body. This makes it more likely that you'll have a serious reaction.

If you are stung more than once and have these symptoms, you need to seek medical care right away:

  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Seizures

Signs of a Serious Reactions to a Bee Sting

If you or someone around you gets stung by a bee and has signs of a severe reaction, you need to call 911. People who are allergic to bee stings can go into anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition.

Signs of a serious reaction to a bee sting include:

  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
  • Shortness of breathwheezing, and/or coughing
  • Full-body itchiness
  • Hives or swelling beyond the area that they got stung
  • Reddening of the skin (flushing)
  • Runny nose, sneezing, or postnasal drip (mucus in the throat)
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • Lightheadedness
  • High heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Passing out (fainting)
  • Feeling panicky or having a sense of impending doom
  • metallic taste in the mouth

Usually, you won't know if you're allergic to bee stings until you get stung and have a reaction. Once you learn that you're allergic to bee stings, you should always carry epinephrine (EpiPen). If you are stung, an EpiPen could save your life.

Treating a Bee Sting

Once the stinger is out and you know you're not having a severe reaction, here are the next steps for treating the bee sting:

  • Wash the area with antibacterial soap and water
  • Apply a cold compress to help reduce inflammation
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (like Advil or Aleve)

Home Remedies for Bee Stings

Some people claim that home remedies can ease the pain, itching, and swelling of a bee sting. While they might not hurt to try, these methods are not backed up by science.

  • Apple cider vinegar: The theory is that vinegar neutralizes bee sting 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) might help neutralize the sting and reduce inflammation.
  • Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream: These creams have long been used to treat itching from different causes, including insect stings.
  • Honey: Honey has long been used to help with wounds. Ironically, it might help reduce the swelling from bee stings. It's also said to kill germs and speed up healing. Apply just a little honey to the skin where you got stung.
  • Toothpaste: Some people claim that toothpaste can neutralize bee venom. Try dabbing some on the spot where you got stung.
  • Topical pain creams: Some products that you put on your skin (topical) are marketed specifically for bee stings while others are just for relieving pain.

How Can I Tell What Stung Me?

Lots of insects can sting, but not all of them will leave a stinger behind when they do. If you get stung and see a stinger, it means you got stung by a honey bee. Specifically, it means that you got stung by a female honey bee.

While honey bees, bumblebees, wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets all come from the same family of insects (hymenoptera), and they all sting, only honey bees leave a stinger behind.

The stings from these insects are similar. Unless there's a stinger left behind, you may not know which one stung you.

Since most of these insects do not lose their stinger when they sting, they can sting you more than once. Some wasps can bite as well as sing, and their bite can be very painful.

Honey bees Yes No No
Bumblebees  No Yes No
Wasps No Yes  Yes
Yellowjackets  No  Yes  Yes 
Hornets No Yes Yes


If you're stung by a bee, you need to get the stinger out quickly to make sure more venom is not pumped into your body. The longer the stinger is in, the more likely it is that you'll have a reaction.

Once the stinger is out (or if there is no stinger), you can start treating the sting. Keep the area clean and take OTC pain relievers if it hurts. If the swelling isn't getting better in a few days, have your provider take a look at it.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

    You will likely experience worsening bee sting symptoms. Not taking the stinger out can also lead to an infection and increase your risk of an allergic reaction.

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

    It depends on how your body reacts to the sting. Both stings release venom that causes swelling and pain, and both can cause severe reactions, including anaphylaxis.

  • What is a bee stinger called?

    The bee's stinger is an ovipositor. It's part of a female bee's reproductive system. The queen bee lays eggs through her ovipositor and can also sting with it. Female worker bees do not lay eggs, so they can only use their ovipositor to sting. 

  • What can help draw out a bee stinger?

    Some people say that home remedies like baking soda and water or bentonite clay may help draw out a bee stinger, but these aren't proven. Your body will usually push a stinger out of your skin on its own in a day or two without any intervention.

  • How do you know if a bee stinger is still in you?

    Usually, you'll be able to see the stinger. It will look like a tiny black spot just under your skin. The place where you got stung may also keep hurting or itch if you didn't get the stinger out.

7 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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  2. PerfectBee. The anatomy of bees.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to treat a bee sting.

  4. National Capital Poison Center: Poison Control. Bee stings: Is it an allergic reaction?

  5. Saikaly SK, Khachemoune A. Honey and wound healing: An update. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2017;18(2):237-251. doi:10.1007/s40257-016-0247-8

  6. Lee JA, Singletary E, Charlton N. Methods of honey bee stinger removal: A systematic review of the literatureCureus. 2020;12(5):e8078. doi:10.7759/cureus.8078

  7. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Insect sting allergy.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.