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First Aid for Bee Stings

Last updated Feb. 25, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Bee Stings can be painful and produce allergic reactions in some individuals. In some cases, this may be severe and deadly.

What is Bee Stings?

  • Bees are winged (flying) insects found all over the world that are very important for their role as global pollinators. They constitute over 20,000 different species across the world
  • Some of the common ones that sting include the honeybee, German black bee, carpenter bee, bumble bee, digger bee, killer bee, and European honey bee
  • Bee Stings can be painful and produce allergic reactions in some individuals. In some cases, this may be severe and deadly

Bee Stings may be also referred to as the following:

  • Apis Venenum Purum Poisoning
  • Apis Virus Poisoning
  • Apitoxin Poisoning
  • Bee Poisoning
  • Bee Venom Poisoning

What are the Causes of Bee Stings?

  • Bee Stings occur following exposure to bees. Most species of bees are generally passive, but will sting if provoked or disturbed. A few species of bees are known to be very aggressive while defending their hives
  • The bee venom, or apitoxin, is acidic in nature and typically contain a mixture of proteins. Some of the toxins include melittin, histamine, and other types of amines
  • Some honeybees are known to release certain chemicals (called pheromones) while stinging, which incite other bees to attack/sting. These chemicals do not get wiped-off or washed-off easily, resulting in a continued attack

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Bee Stings?

The signs and symptoms of Bee Stings depend on whether the stings are few or numerous, and the type of reaction that develops in the individual. These may include:

  • At the area of the sting:
    • Burning sensation and immediate sharp pain that may be severe
    • Itchiness
    • Swelling and redness of skin
    • The skin inflammation may increase in size after a few days
  • In case of intense scratching, it may lead to an infection
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach muscle cramping
  • Fever
  • Lowered blood pressure (hypotension)
  • In case of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), the following may be observed:
    • Severe sweating
    • Breathing difficulties
    • Increased heart rate
    • Swollen mouth, lips, tongue, and throat, which may further lead to swallowing and speaking difficulties
    • Flushing of skin, hives
    • Collapse and unconsciousness

Multiple stings by a swarm of bees may result in severe symptoms, especially in those with certain underlying heart conditions, the elderly adults and young children. In such cases, prompt medical attention is necessary and important.

How is First Aid administered for Bee Stings?

First Aid tips for Bee Stings:

  • Move the individual away from the area of exposure, as safely as possible
  • If allergy to bee poison is present/known and the individual is carrying prescription epinephrine medication on him/her, it should be administered immediately
  • Try to remove the stinger with your fingernails or a pair of tweezers. However, try not to pinch the end of the stinger, for that will inject more venom into the body
  • If numerous stingers are visible, then try to scrape the site with a blunt, firm, and straight-edged object such as the back of a knife, a plastic card, or comb
  • Repeatedly wash the area with soap and water
  • Put an icepack or ice wrapped in cloth on the affected area; place the icepack for 10 minutes on the site and then break for 10 minutes (to avoid skin tissue damage from ice). Repeat this process several times
  • Take an antihistamine drug, such as diphenhydramine, to prevent an allergic reaction (for mild cases of Bee Poisoning ONLY)
  • DO NOT use any home remedies/preparations (such as vinegar, soda, etc.) on the affected region
  • DO NOT take any pain medications, such as Aspirin, unless recommended by a physician
  • DO NOT use a tourniquet on the affected area
  • Look out for any signs of infection
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions

In case of an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), immediately call 911 or your local emergency help number. Until emergency help arrives, the following may be considered:

  • Help the affected individual take medication for allergy reaction, such as epinephrine, if he/she is prescribed the drug and is in possession of the same
  • After injecting epinephrine, give the individual an antihistamine pill
  • Lie down the victim with legs slightly elevated than the head
  • If the victim is vomiting, turn them onto their side
  • If the victim is not breathing or there is no movement, immediately begin CPR
  • If possible, take the insect (or parts of it) to the healthcare facility for identification

Who should administer First Aid for Bee Stings?

The individual who is affected, or someone near should administer initial first aid, following which one should seek medical help.

What is the Prognosis of Bee Stings?

  • The prognosis is dependent on the extent of Bee Stings and the severity of an allergic reaction, if any
  • In most cases, the prognosis is typically good and the individuals can recover within 2-7 days

How can Bee Stings be Prevented?

Bee Stings may be prevented by:

  • Avoid being outdoors at night in forested areas
  • Do not play near beehives, or provoke/prod beehives with sticks
  • Use pest control in areas where insects are found in large numbers
  • Wear clothes that cover the entire body while outdoors in the evenings or at nights
  • Individuals, who collect honey as part of their profession, or are beekeepers, should consider all necessary precautions to avoid being stung by bees
  • If you had had an allergic reaction in the past to Bee Stings, chances are that it might occur again. In such situations, it is important to be additionally vigilant

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency help number), if the condition is serious
  • Administer antihistamines, if the individual has an allergic reaction

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 28, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 25, 2018