How to Remove a Bee Stinger and Treat the Sting

Speed is important!

When you get stung by a bee, the painful bump isn't all that's left behind—often, the bee's stinger will remain in your skin along with the venom sac attached to it. And while it's there, it can continue to inject venom into your body. This can make the sting worse and increase potential problems like an allergic reaction, so it's important for you 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 those 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.

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

Speed Matters Most

There's some controversy surrounding the best method for removing a bee stinger. Some say it needs to be scraped out to avoid squeezing more venom into the skin. Others say just grab and pull, but some people fear that will squeeze more venom out of the sac and into their bodies. This concern has been considered common wisdom for a long time, and even some medical websites continue to advise against pinching the stinger.

Not much scientific study has been dedicated to the effects of different removal methods, but according to a 2020 review of the available research, it appears that it doesn't really matter how you take it out. Pinching doesn't seem to increase the release of venom, but leaving the stinger in does. The most important thing is that you remove the stinger as quickly as possible.

How to Remove a Bee Stinger

When you're stung, it's painful and probably startling. It's normal to have an adrenaline rush and a panicked reaction. However, it's important for you to calm yourself down quickly so you can check for a stinger and, if necessary, take it out.

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, and that's the stinger. You may be able to see a bulbous tip on the top of it, and that's the venom sac.

Sometimes, if someone doesn't see a stinger, they worry that it's under their skin. It's almost certainly not—the shape of the stinger makes it really unlikely. If it's not visible, assume there's no stinger and treat the sting without worrying about it.

Pull the Skin Tight

Especially if the sting is somewhere with loose or folded skin, you may need to pull the area tight to get a good look at the stinger. This will also make it easier to get to for removal.

Pull or Scrape the Stinger

Once you've found the stinger, you can scrape it off with your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, or anything similar that you have on hand. Additionally, you can pinch it with tweezers or between your fingers and pull it out.

Dangerous Reactions to Bee Stings

Most people who are allergic to bee stings only find out by getting stung. If you're stung by a bee and the bump (called a weal) swells up large and turns red, watch for redness and swelling spreading out away from the weal.

Normal symptoms of a sting include:

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

Those symptoms, while unpleasant, aren't cause for alarm. If symptoms begin appearing away from the site of the sting, however, that can indicate a dangerous allergic reaction that requires emergency medical treatment.

Signs of Anaphylaxis

Be aware of any itching or burning on the skin that's not touching the weal, or of trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, scratchy throat, dizziness, or weakness after the sting.

Any of these signs and symptoms could indicate anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment.

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. If you witness someone else 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 of anaphylaxis.

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.

  • Wash the area.
  • Apply a cold compress to reduce inflammation.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (Advil, Aleve).

Under Your Skin

In the unlikely case that part or all of a stinger has become lodged underneath the skin, it will probably work its way out over a few days much like a splinter. If the swelling doesn't go down after a couple of days, you may need to see a doctor to check for infection.

Home Remedies

A lot of home remedies may help ease the pain, itching, and swelling of a bee sting. Many of these aren't backed by science but some people claim they work.

  • Apple cider vinegar: Some people claim that it neutralizes venom and helps reduce swelling. You can soak the sting in diluted vinegar or cover it with a vinegar-soaked cloth for 15 minutes.
  • Honey: It may seem ironic, but this bee product is shown to improve wound healing, reduce inflammation, and kill germs that could cause an infection. Just apply a little to the sting.
  • Topical pain creams: Some products are marketed specifically for bee stings while others are for pain in general.
  • Toothpaste: Some people claim toothpaste can neutralize bee venom when dabbed onto a sting.
  • Baking soda: A baking soda paste (1/4 cup baking soda mixed with 1-2 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 from multiple sources, including stings.

Different Insect Stings

Honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets all come from the same family (hymenoptera) and all can sting. The stings themselves are quite similar and, unless there's a stinger left behind, it may be impossible to tell them apart. Because most of these insects don't lose their stinger, they can sting multiple times.

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 also have severe symptoms due to the amount of venom in their system. These symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • In extreme cases, seizures

Some wasps can bite in addition to stinging, and their bite can be quite painful.

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 your skin, releasing venom continuously until it’s removed. Wasps don’t leave their stingers in you, but they can sting you repeatedly, so you also face a risk of repeated venom injections.

A Word From Verywell

In most cases, although it may cause panic, a bee sting that leaves a stinger in your skin is no big issue. Simply get rid of it—how you do it doesn't matter, just that you do it quickly. If you're allergic to bee stings and think a stinger is too deep to remove (which is rare), get medical attention right away.

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

  4. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Insect sting allergy. Updated February 5, 2018.