Bee Stings: Prevention and Treatment

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Bees are extremely beneficial insects, but their stings can be very painful. Learn how to prevent and treat a bee or wasp sting here.

How to Treat a Bee Sting

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Here are some first aid tips for those annoying and often painful bee stings—plus, tips on how to prevent bee stings in the first place.

Prevent Bee Stings

An important consideration when it comes to bees is that they truly don't want to sting you. This means that you have to somehow provoke a bee to make it sting you. Unfortunately, sometimes this happens accidentally: Many of us have made the mistake of stepping on a bee or gone too close to a bee hive without proper precaution.

You can generally prevent a sting by simply leaving the bees alone. Standing still while a bee flies around you can be a great way to prevent pain for you both. Even if one of the stinging insects lands on you, it will probably fly off on its own with time.

Bees sometimes react to certain odors that perfumes or colognes carry. If you know you are going into an area that generally has them, keep your scent neutral. Bright colors can also attract bees. Be sure to wear footwear outdoors so as not to accidentally step on a stinging insect.

How Often Do Bees or Wasps Sting?

Honey bees can only sting once because their stingers have barbed edges. However, the stinger will continually release venom once it is in you, so you should try to remove it immediately.

Bumble bees, on the other hand, have smooth stingers and can sting more than once. However, they tend to have calmer temperaments than honey bees, which is why many people think of them as harmless.

Wasps can also sting more than once. Yellow jackets are a particularly aggressive type of wasp, and they can also sting multiple times. Hornets are also simply another name for a type of wasp.

It is normal for you to experience swelling, reddening, a sharp pain that turns into a dull ache, and itching with these stings. If you have other complications like a headache, seek medical attention.

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How to Treat a Bee Sting

  1. If you have a history of severe bee sting reactions or reactions to other insect stings, call emergency medical services.
  2. If the bee stinger is still present, remove it immediately. Gently scrape the skin with a credit card, your thumbnail, or a blunt knife. 
  3. Don't pull out the stinger or pinch the stinger with your fingers or tweezers. This will only release more venom into the skin.
  4. After the stinger is eased out with the credit card, apply ice or cold packs to constrict the capillaries, reduce swelling, and mitigate the pain.
  5. Even though the area might become itchy, try not to scratch it. Dirt or other microbes from the surface of the skin could get into the sting and cause an infection.
  6. It's better to  clean the area with soap and water and apply hydrocortisone cream or a mixture of baking soda and water (which will help the itching and discomfort).
  7. If no other treatment is available, apply a slice of onion to the spot and hold it for a minute or so.

Remember that bees (and wasps) can also be very beneficial to your garden. Bees are most responsible for pollination, and wasps eat many other pests like tomato hornworms. If you feel that you can coexist with bees, here are tips for attracting them to your garden. Preventing bee and wasp stings is all about understanding the insects. To teach your kids more about these pretty remarkable insects, click here.

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Comments

Rachel Lindley… (not verified)

2 months ago

Snuff or Mud are the best home remedies to remove stinger from a bee sting! It removes stinger immediately!

Mike (not verified)

4 months 2 weeks ago

I'm a little surprised that the use of meat tenderizer isn't mentioned. All the other pain-relieving remedies are effective as well, however, so I guess it's just what you have on hand and feel good about trying. A paste of meat tenderizer and water will immediately stop pain and throbbing and is fairly fast to whip up, assuming you have it in the pantry. A good memory I have of my dad involves him getting stung and coming into the house, asking me if I knew what to do. I mixed up the meat tenderizer paste, put it on the sting and he was amazed at how fast it stopped hurting. He was all excited that his son was able to help him and I was glad I could.

LizEst (not verified)

4 months 2 weeks ago

I keep Benadryl in my medicine cabinet for stinging insects. One tablet does it. Since it makes me sleepy, I find it's a good excuse to take a nap, too!

Lorenzo (not verified)

9 months 1 week ago

I grew up on a ranch and have had my share of bee and ant stings. My father always used good old fashion mud ( dirt and water ) and put it directly on the sting. It worked and relived the pain quickly. Afterwards my mom would just wash the area with hydrogen peroxide to clean the area properly. Never pull out a bee sting. It will always make it worse. Find a card , toothbrush or even a credit card and gently scrape it off. Keep calm and remember the bee got the worst of it because one they sting you they die !

Joan Abraham (not verified)

1 year 1 month ago

I have recently discovered that Witch Hazel is excellent for relieving the itching and swelling. I was surprised how quickly it works. I apply the witch hazel using a cotton ball and dab it on the bitten area. Natural apple cider vinegar works well also for bites and minor burns.