how to treat bee stings

When to Seek Help for a Bee Sting

Nothing can spoil an outdoor adventure quite as quickly as a bee sting that leads to an allergic reaction. Call it the not-so-pleasant side of Mother Nature. Fortunately, most bee stings and wasp stings are not a cause for concern and usually can be treated at home.

In more extreme cases, a severe sting can result in an infection or allergic reaction, leading you to your doctor’s office or urgent care. When should you be concerned and seek medical treatment for a bee sting?

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Typical Symptoms of a Bee Sting or Wasp Sting

Bee and wasp stings have similar side effects: They’re both painful and involve the insect injecting venom into the sting site. Both bee and wasp stings result in a red welt, minor pain (a “stinging” sensation), and minor swelling. Sometimes the puncture site appears white.

Bee Sting Treatment

If you’re stung by a bee you should remove the stinger and attached venom sac. Just use a credit card, your fingernail, or similar object to scrape away the stinger. Don’t use tweezers — they can squeeze more venom into the sting site.

If you’ve been stung by either insect, try applying a cold pack to reduce pain and swelling. Bee sting symptoms should subside within a few hours. Take oral antihistamines, like diphenhydramine, also known as Benadryl, to continue to reduce the swelling and itch.

Some people may have a stronger allergic reaction to an insect’s venom, leading to bee sting side effects, such as a very large, swollen welt. The welt may grow in size over a 48-hour period. This reaction remains local to the sting site and doesn’t spread to other areas of the body.

One minor sting should be easily treatable at home, but in cases of multiple stings or a severe reaction, be sure to call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

What Does a Bee Sting Look Like?

Bee stings often cause a raised welt and swelling around the sting site.

How long does a sting stay swollen?

Bee stings and your body’s reaction to their venom will vary, but a common sting may stay swollen for up to 48 hours. This swelling should subside. Consider calling your doctor if the ting site continues to be swollen after two days.

When to Seek Medical Attention 

You should be concerned with the sting and seek medical attention if your body’s allergic reaction to it spreads throughout your body.

This reaction might come in the form of symptoms such as:

  • Itching and hives.
  • Paleness.
  • Sweaty skin.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Weak pulse.

Any of these bee sting symptoms could be the sign of a severe allergic reaction to the insect sting, and you should immediately seek help.

The most serious threat of an insect sting is anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening swelling of the throat and tongue, which can prevent you from breathing. It is a cause for concern and is important that you get to an emergency medical professional as soon as possible, even if you only have one or two symptoms.

If you have a known allergy to bees, you should use your epinephrine injector immediately to prevent symptoms of this reaction, and still call 911.

Also, if you receive multiple stings, such as from a swarm of bees or wasps, that is a cause for concern so seek medical treatment immediately, as the venom can build up in the body and cause a severe allergic reaction.

For more information, visit the UPMC Urgent Care webpage.



Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Urgent Care

Sometimes you need care right away, with no time to wait for an appointment. That’s where UPMC Urgent Care comes in. We offer prompt treatment for illnesses and injuries seven days a week, with no appointment necessary. With locations throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, you can find immediate care close to you – even if your doctor’s office is closed. Our services include treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, physicals, prescription filling, and flu shots and immunizations. Wait times for minor injuries and illnesses are usually shorter than the Emergency Department, and we accept most major insurance. Visit our website to find a location close to you.