How to Treat a Bee Sting Safely

Bee stings are always at least painful and they can be deadly if you're allergic to bee venom. If you've had any kind of allergic reaction to previous bee stings, you have a higher chance of going into anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, after your next sting.​

When females of certain bee species sting you, they leave behind a barbed stinger attached to a venom sac. The stinger can continue injecting venom into your body until it's removed, so it's important to remove the stinger right away. (Males, females from other species, yellowjackets, hornets, and wasps do not leave stingers behind, so if you don't see a stinger, you were likely stung by one of them.)

Anyone who's stung will generally experience:

  • Sudden intense pain
  • Swelling around the sting
  • Redness and itchiness around the sting

Whether or not you're allergic to bees, it's important to take the right steps immediately after a sting.

How to Treat a Bee Sting
Verywell / JR Bee

Symptoms of a Severe Allergic Reaction

Severe allergic reactions to stings can be deadly, whether you're stung by a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellowjacket. Emergency medical treatment is required if you or someone else has these symptoms after a sting:

  • Itching or burning that's away from the site of the sting itself
  • Hives (raised welts) elsewhere on the body
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Scratchy throat
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness

If you've previously had anaphylaxis after a bee sting, you should always carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) with you in case you're stung again. This can stop the reaction and keep you alive. If you witness anaphylaxis in someone else, use any EpiPen that's available along with calling 911.

Most people find out they're allergic to bee stings only after they've been stung, making it a surprising and frightening situation.

Known Allergy + Sting = 911

Whenever someone with a known bee, wasp, hornet, or yellowjacket allergy is stung, and especially if they don't have an EpiPen, you should call 911. Do not wait for symptoms to appear.

How to Treat a Bee Sting

The suddenness of a sting can cause panic, both in the person who was stung and the people around them, as they try to figure out what just happened and how to deal with the pain. It's important to stay as calm as possible (or to calm down) so you can handle the situation.

As long as there's not an anaphylactic reaction to deal with, the steps you need to take are pretty simple.

Take Out the Stinger

Inspect the area closely. You'll likely see a red bump. If a stinger was left behind, you'll see a small black filament sticking out of the center. It may have a bulbous end, which is the venom sac.

Especially if the skin around the stinger is loose, pull it tight to get a better look and make the stinger more accessible. Then pinch or scrape the stinger to pull it out. Act quickly, because the longer it pumps in venom, the more the sting will hurt. It also increases the risk of an allergic reaction.

You may have heard that you should always scrape bee stingers off because pinching the venom sac could push in extra venom, but that's one of the biggest myths of first aid. Research shows that pinching the stinger doesn't seem to inject more venom, but being slow to remove it does. So how fast you get the stinger out is much more important than how you do it.

It is OK to pull a stinger out with your fingers, brush it off, or get it out any way you can. The longer a bee stinger is allowed to remain in the body, the more severe the reaction will be.

Once you've removed the stinger, try to get away from the area where the sting occurred. Leaving the stinger behind actually kills the bee, and dying bees release a scent that attracts other bees. While the one who stung you no longer poses a risk, its hive mates will when they arrive. Clearing everyone out of the area can prevent more stings.

Treat Local Reactions

Once you're in a safe place and have removed the stinger (if necessary), clean the area with soap and water. It'll hurt, but this is important for preventing infection.

Bee stings almost always cause a local reaction (at the site of the sting), even in people who aren't allergic to them. To ease the redness, swelling, itching, and pain, there are a few things you can try:

  • Ice the area to reduce swelling (but be sure not to cause frostbite).
  • Use an antihistamine like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to reduce swelling and itching.
  • Try Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), or Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain.
  • Apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream along with a bandage to help with pain and itching.
  • Don't scratch, as that can make it worse and put you at risk of infection.

Time is the best medicine. The pain will usually go away pretty quickly, but swelling and itching may last for a day or more.

Watch for Warning Signs

Again, watch anyone who's been stung closely for signs of anaphylaxis. Even if they've been stung before and didn't have an allergic reaction, they might this time. An allergy can develop after any sting.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis typically develop within two hours of the sting, but it may be a longer or shorter amount of time. Any symptoms of anaphylaxis should be treated as an emergency. Don't try to treat the allergy and see what happens—call 911.

What to Do About Multiple Bee Stings

Anyone who has been stung multiple times (10 or more) needs to go to the emergency room. Multiple local reactions, even without an allergy, can cause a lot of pain. Also, the more venom in your body, the more likely it is you'll have an allergic reaction.


For bee stings that don't involve allergic reactions, you may be able to get relief from a variety of home remedies. These may be helpful if you can't take or don't like to take pain medications or if the sting still hurts in spite of them. (Note that most of these are folk remedies and not supported by scientific research.)

Apple Cider Vinegar

Some people say that apple cider vinegar can neutralize the venom and help lower inflammation. You can apply this one in a couple of ways:

  • Soak a cloth in vinegar and apply it to the sting.
  • Soak the stung body part in a solution of water and vinegar.

Give this treatment about 15 minutes.

Baking Soda

A paste made with baking soda and water may alleviate the pain of the sting and help reduce the inflammation. To make it:

  • Measure one-quarter cup baking soda.
  • Mix with 1 to 2 tablespoons water.
  • Slather it (gently) on and around the sting.
  • Bandage the area and leave it on for 15 minutes or more.

While this hasn't been researched for bee stings, some evidence shows it may be helpful for treating jellyfish stings.


A simpler method than making the baking soda paste is just dabbing toothpaste onto the sting. This approach has no scientific backing, but some people swear by it.


Honey, ironically, may be an effective treatment for bee stings. It's been long known to have properties that reduce inflammation, speed wound healing, and kill germs that may cause an infection. Again, just dab a little on the sting.

Aspirin Paste

Taking aspirin may help with the pain of a sting, but some people go a step further and crush up a tablet with water to make a paste, similar to the baking soda treatment.

This topic has gotten a very small amount of attention from medical researchers, but not for quite a while. A 2003 study concluded that a topical aspirin paste did nothing to help with swelling and pain and actually made the sting stay red longer. Researchers found ice to be a superior treatment.


Especially if you know that you are allergic to bees, or if someone close to you is, you should take steps to prevent stings during outdoor activities. Bees, wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets are attracted to sweet smells and bright colors, so to make sure you're not attracting them:

  • Cover your food.
  • Cover soda can openings.
  • Stay away from garbage cans.
  • Avoid wearing clothing with bright colors or flower prints.
  • Avoid using body care products that smell sweet.
  • Stay away from flowers.

Stinging is how these insects protect themselves and their hive, so one way to prevent stings is to avoid making them feel threatened:

  • Stay away from hives or nests.
  • Don't swat at them—instead, try to stay calm and still.
  • Wear shoes in case you step on one.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does pain and swelling from a bee sting last?

    The initial pain and burning from a bee sting lasts approximately one to two hours, but swelling can increase for up to 48 hours after the sting or longer depending on the site of the sting. An allergic reaction to insect stings can take longer to clear up—in some cases, up to 10 days.

  • Which insects cause the most stings?

    The insects that cause the most stings include apids (honeybees and bumblebees), vespids (wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets), and fire ants. It is said that honey bees and yellow jackets alone make up 95% of stings.

    Only honeybees lose their stingers when they sting. If you find a stinger at the sting site, it belonged to a honeybee.

  • What is the best treatment for a bee sting?

    Treatment for a bee sting should start by removing the stinger, if it's still there, and cleaning the affected area with soap and water. After that, there's a few ways you can ease redness, swelling, or itchiness, but only time will fully heal the sting.

    • Wrap a towel around an ice pack and apply it to the bee sting for 20 minutes at a time. This will reduce swelling.
    • Use an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, to relieve itchiness and swelling.
    • Apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to reduce pain and itching. If you use these, cover the sting with a bandage afterward.
    • Avoid scratching the area, as that can increase the risk of infection.
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10 Sources
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