Bee Sting Treatment

What to do for minor and severe reactions

Bee sting treatment can range from simple home remedies to life-saving medical treatment. The most important first step in either case? Removing the stinger.

Female bees are the ones that do the stinging. When you get stung by a bee, a venom sac is left behind with the barbed stinger stuck in your skin. The stinger can keep injecting venom into your body until it's removed.

In most cases, this will cause sudden intense pain, as well as swelling, redness, and itching around the sting. Symptoms will persist and potentially worsen until the stinger is removed. In others cases, a bee sting can cause a fatal allergic reaction.

This article goes over how to treat a bee sting, including how to tell if you're having a serious reaction to a bee sting that requires immediate medical attention.

Look for Signs of an Emergency

Before attempting to self-treat a bee sting, it is important for you to assess for any signs of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction):

  • 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

While these typically show up within two hours of the sting, a reaction could take more or less time.

If they occur, use any epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) that's available and call 911 to get emergency medical care.

When to Call for Help Immediately

Whether the above signs and symptoms are present or not, get immediate medical care if:

  • The person who was stung has a known bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket allergy
  • You or someone else has been stung 10 or more times

Someone can have an allergic reaction even they don't have immediate symptoms.

Multiple local reactions, even without an allergy, can cause a lot of pain. Also, the more venom there is in your body from a sting, the more likely it is you'll have an allergic reaction.

How to Treat a Bee Sting

How to Treat a Bee Sting

Verywell / JR Bee

If you do not have an immediate, severe reaction, and you don't have a known allergy, the steps to deal with a bee sting are fairly simple.

Step 1: Take Out the Stinger

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

If the skin around the stinger is loose, pull it tight to get a better look. This will also make the stinger more accessible.

Next, pull the stinger out . Do this quickly— the longer the stinger is in and is pumping out venom, the more the sting will hurt. It will also increase the risk of an allergic reaction.

Should I Scrape or Pinch the Stinger?

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 has shown that pinching the stinger does not seem to inject more venom; however, being slow to remove it does. How fast you get the stinger out is much more important than how you do it.

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. When bees die, they release a scent that attracts other bees.

While the bee that stung you no longer poses a risk, its hive mates will when they arrive. Clearing everyone out of the area can prevent more stings.

Step 2: Treat Local Reactions

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

Bee stings almost always cause a reaction at the place where the sting happened (a local reaction)—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 (just make sure to avoid causing frostbite if you're using an ice pack)
  • Use an antihistamine like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to reduce swelling and itching
  • Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), or Tylenol (acetaminophen)
  • Apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream along with a bandage to help with pain and itching
  • Do not scratch, as that can make it worse and put you at risk of infection

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

Step 3: Continue to Watch for Warning Signs

Anyone can develop a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting. This is true for those who have been stung before and didn't react, as well as those who get stung and don't show any signs an anaphylaxis right away.

Continue to monitor for symptoms of a reaction in the hours after a bee sting.

Any symptoms of anaphylaxis should be treated as an emergency. If you notice them, call 911 right away.

Severe Bee Sting Reaction Treatment

Emergency treatment of a severe reaction to a bee sting involves the administration of epinephrine (adrenaline), a drug that is injected to stop the allergic response.

Hospital staff will likely also give you oxygen, as the reaction can impede your breathing. You may also be given IV medications to bring down inflammation, as well a rescue inhaler treatment.

CPR will be performed if the reaction is so severe that your heart stops or you stop breathing.

If you've had any kind of allergic reaction to previous bee stings, you have a higher chance of having a life-threatening allergic reaction the next time you get stung.

Anyone who has ever had an anaphylactic reaction after a bee sting should always carry an EpiPen in case they are stung again.

This medicine can stop the reaction and keep you alive until you can get medical care.

Home Remedies for Bee Stings

These home treatments for a bee sting are not backed up by scientific research. Rather, they are simple remedies that some people have claimed help ease the pain of a sting.

You can consider trying these if you do not have a severe reaction and have removed the stinger.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Some people claim that apple cider vinegar can neutralize the venom from a sting and help lower inflammation.

You can apply apple cider vinegar 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

After you apply the treatment, leave it in place for 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.

Here's how to make the paste:

  1. Measure one-quarter cup of baking soda
  2. Mix the baking soda with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water
  3. Cover the area on and around the sting (gently) with the paste
  4. Bandage the area and leave it on for 15 minutes or longer

While this remedy has not been researched for bee stings, some evidence has shown that it might help treat jellyfish stings.

Toothpaste

Similar to making a baking soda paste, some people claim that dabbing some toothpaste on the sting helps, but there is no scientific evidence that it works.

Honey

Ironically, honey might be an effective treatment for bee stings. Just dab a little bit on the site of the sting.

Honey has long been known to have properties that reduce inflammation, speed wound healing, and kill germs that may cause an infection.

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.

Aspirin as a bee sting treatment has gotten some scientific research attention, but not in recent years.

A 2003 study concluded that a topical aspirin paste did not help with swelling and pain from a bee sting and actually made the stung area stay red longer. Instead, the researchers found that ice was a much better bee sting treatment.

How to Prevent Bee Stings

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 yellow jackets are attracted to sweet smells and bright colors.

Here are a few tips to make yourself less attractive to stinging insects:

  • 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 insects protect themselves and their hive. One way to prevent stings is to avoid making them feel threatened.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you're outside and stinging insects are around:

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

Summary

For many people, a bee sting is a minor pain (albeit a surprising one) that can be easily treated and gets better within a day or two. However, it's important to know the signs of a severe reaction to a sting, as it can be life-threatening.

If you or a loved one has a known allergy to stings, make sure that you always carry an EpiPen and know how to use it. It's also helpful to take steps to prevent the insects from stinging you—or even being interested in you—when you're outside.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which insects cause the most stings?

    The insects that cause the most stings are 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.

  • How do I know if a bee stung me?

    Bites from different stinging insects can have similar symptoms. But if you notice a stinger left behind, you were bit by a honeybee—the only insect that leaves behind this kind of calling card.

  • How do I know if I'm allergic to bees?

    You may not find out that you're allergic to bees until you get stung.

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

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

10 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.
  1. National Capital Poison Center: Poison Control. Bee stings: Is it an allergic reaction?

  2. Cedars-Sinai. How to treat a bee sting.

  3. 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

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bees, wasps, and hornets.

  5. Montgomery L, Seys J, Mees J. To pee, or not to pee: A review on envenomation and treatment in European jellyfish speciesMar Drugs. 2016;14(7):127. doi:10.3390/md14070127

  6. 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

  7. Balit CR, Isbister GK, Buckley NA. Randomized controlled trial of topical aspirin in the treatment of bee and wasp stingsJ Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 2003;41(6):801-808. doi:10.1081/clt-120025345

  8. KidsHealth from Nemours. Hey! A bee stung me!

  9. Seattle Children's Hospital. Bee or yellow jacket sting.

  10. University of Michigan Health. Allergies to insect stings.

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.