Bee stings are a common outdoor nuisance. In most cases, bee stings are just annoying and home treatment is all that's necessary to ease the pain of bee stings. But if you're allergic to bee stings or you get stung numerous times, you may have a more serious reaction that requires emergency treatment. You can take several steps to avoid bee stings — as well as hornet and wasp stings — and find out how to treat them if you do get stung.
Bee stings can produce different reactions, ranging from temporary pain and discomfort to a severe allergic reaction. Having one type of reaction doesn't mean you'll always have the same reaction every time you're stung.
In most people, swelling and pain go away within a few hours.
Large local reaction
Large local reactions tend to resolve over five to 10 days. Having a large local reaction doesn't mean you'll have a severe allergic reaction the next time you're stung. But some people develop similar large local reactions each time they're stung. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor about treatment and prevention.
Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
People who have a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting have a 30 to 60 percent chance of anaphylaxis the next time they're stung. Talk to your doctor or an allergy specialist about prevention measures such as immunotherapy to avoid a similar reaction in case you get stung again.
Multiple bee stings
If you get stung more than a dozen times, the accumulation of venom may induce a toxic reaction and make you feel quite sick. Signs and symptoms include:
Multiple stings can be a medical emergency in children, older adults, and people who have heart or breathing problems.
When to see a doctor
Call 911 or other emergency services if:
Seek prompt medical care if:
Make an appointment to see your doctor if:
Bee sting venom contains proteins that affect skin cells and the immune system, causing pain and swelling around the sting area. In people with a bee sting allergy, bee venom can trigger a more serious immune system reaction.
You're at increased risk of bee stings if:
You're more likely to have an allergic reaction to bee stings if you've had an allergic reaction to a bee sting in the past, even if it was minor.
Adults tend to have more-severe reactions than children and are more likely to die of anaphylaxis than are children. Your reaction may also be more severe if you're taking certain medications, such as a beta blocker.
Possible, though uncommon, complications of bee and other insect stings include:
Preparing for your appointment
Bee and other insect stings are a common cause of anaphylaxis. If you've had a serious reaction to a bee sting but did not seek emergency treatment, consult your doctor. He or she may refer you to an allergy specialist (allergist) who can determine whether you're allergic to bee or other insect venom and can help you find ways to prevent future allergic reactions.
Your doctor or allergist will do a thorough physical examination and will want to know:
You also might want to ask the following questions of your doctor:
Don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
Tests and diagnosis
If you've had a reaction to bee stings that suggests you might be allergic to bee venom, your doctor may suggest one or both of the following tests:
Allergy skin tests are the most accurate tests for insect allergies. But if the allergy skin test is negative — and your doctor still thinks you might have a stinging insect allergy — you may need an allergy blood test to double-check. Your doctor may also want to test you for allergies to yellow jackets, hornets and wasps — which can cause allergic reactions similar to those of bee stings.
Positive reaction to allergy test
A small area of swelling with surrounding redness is typical of a positive allergy skin test. ...
Treatments and drugs
For most bee stings, home treatment is enough. Multiple stings or an allergic reaction, on the other hand, can be a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Treatment for minor reactions
Treatment for large local reactions
Emergency treatment for allergic reactions
Be sure you know how to use the autoinjector. Also, make sure the people closest to you know how to administer the drug — if they're with you in an anaphylactic emergency, they could save your life. Medical personnel called in to respond to a severe anaphylactic reaction also may give you an epinephrine injection or another medication.
You might also consider wearing an alert bracelet that identifies your allergy to bee or other insect stings.
Removing a bee's stinger
Be careful not to squeeze the attached venom sac when removing a stinger. ...
Lifestyle and home remedies
Although they haven't been tested by research studies, common home remedies are sometimes used:
A number of prevention strategies can help you minimize your chance of getting stung by bees.
Minimize your exposure:
Know what to do when you're exposed to bees:
Last Updated: 2010-11-23
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