Family doctor



BEE STINGS - a patient's guide


Bee stings can be dangerous in sensitive individuals. This article gives an overview of first aid and offers suggestions to reduce the risks in future.

bee stings


  • Bee stings are serious for those who are allergic to them
  • A bee sting leaves a stinger which looks like a splinter and pumps venom in the body
  • It is best to remove stingers as fast as you can rather than slowly and carefully
  • Check anyone who has been stung by a bee for an allergic reaction
  • Symptoms of an allergic reaction include headache, fever, loss of consciousness, and severe swelling of the face, tongue, lips and body, rash and possible difficulty breathing

What is it?

Bee stings are very common and very serious for five percent of the population who are allergic to them.

There is an increased risk of bee stings during spring.

Once you have been stung by a bee, it leaves a stinger which will continue to pump venom into your body for up to 20 minutes unless it is removed.

A bee sting will cause a red swollen welt on the skin.

Other insects which sting include hornets, bumble bees, wasps and hornets.

What can be done?

The first thing to do is to look for the stinger which looks like a small splinter. If there have been multiple stings check the head, neck and chest first. Remove the stingers as quickly as possible.

Studies show it is better to remove the stinger as fast as you can. In the past, tweezers were recommended to remove stingers but this advice is now outdated because this can squeeze more venom into the site.

Use your thumb and forefinger and grab the stinger as close to the skin as possible and then pull it out.

Wash the sting area with soap and water or alcohol wipes.

Apply ice to the area or use a cloth that has been soaked in cold water. This will help to limit the inflammation.

Bee sting allergies

Some people suffer from hives or stomach cramps following a bee sting and others have a more serious reaction which requires immediate medical attention. In some cases a bee sting can be fatal due to airway obstruction or shock.

Anyone who is stung by a bee should be asked if they are allergic. If unsure the victim should be observed for an allergic reaction. Symptoms include headache, fever, loss of consciousness, severe swelling of the face, tongue, lips and body, muscle cramps, and difficulty breathing.

A person who has received multiple stings should also be observed for signs of an allergic reaction.

An allergic reaction will usually occur within one hour of a sting.

People who have suffered an allergic reaction to a sting have a 60 percent chance of another reaction if they are stung again.

Those allergic to bee stings should wear a medic allergic bracelet to alert others about the allergy and carry an anaphylaxis kit which includes adrenaline and a needle and syringe and an antihistamine. It should also have an instruction kit to explain to others how to use the treatment.

Venom immunotherapy treatment is also an option for people who have suffered an allergic reaction to bee stings. This involves administering traces of venom until the person becomes immune to it. Venom immunotherapy is more than 90 percent effective. However, it may not be necessary in children who are more likely to grow out of the allergy.

This can be a difficult area and advice of an allergy specialist is advisable

Bee sting prevention:

The best way to avoid a bee sting is to stand still and even let it land on you. In most cases it will simply fly away.

Other prevention measures include:

  • Keep soft drinks and sweet foods covered
  • Avoid wearing perfume or hair spray outside
  • Avoid wearing bright clothes because these can attract bees
  • Wear trousers and long sleeved shirts and avoid bare feet
  • Be particularly cautious when you are gardening or doing work around the house

Getting help

See a doctor or an allergy specialist if you have suffered an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

See also:

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