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What to do for Bee Stings

What to do for Bee Stings

A bee sting can not only cause pain, but lead to certain serious complications at times, especially if someone develops an allergic reaction to bee venom. Find out more about how to treat bee stings and what complications can arise from them, by going through this HealthHearty article.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Apr 13, 2018
Bees, including honey bees, bumble bees, killer bees, or Africanized honey bees are all insects belonging to the order Hymenoptera, along with wasps. A bee usually stings when it feels threatened, especially when someone approaches its hive or nest. Strong perfumes and bright colors can attract bees and cause them to sting as well.

Many insects including honey bees can sting thick-skinned animals like mammals only once, as their stingers are barbed. When a worker honey bee tries to fly away after stinging, the stinger along with the venom sac and a part of its digestive tract tear off, and so, the insect dies soon after stinging.

When a worker honey bee stings humans, its stinger and the venom sac remain embedded in the skin. Bumble bees on the other hand, possess smooth stingers that can be pulled out easily after injecting venom into the victim's skin. Bee stings usually cause mild to moderate localized reactions, though some people can experience a severe systemic reaction to bee stings. So, let's find out how to treat a bee sting, and prevent the serious complications associated with it.

How to Treat a Bee Sting

Look for the Stinger
The first thing you should do after being stung by a bee, is find out the stinger. The stinger appears as a black dot at the center of the wound or the sting site. If you see this spot, remove the stinger as soon as possible. A large amount of venom can get released from the venom sac, if the stinger is not removed immediately. While removing the stinger, never squeeze the venom sac. You can use a hard object like a credit card to scrape the stinger out.

Wash the Area with Soap and Water
After removing the stinger, be sure to wash the sting site with soap and water. An antibacterial soap is ideal for this purpose. This would help reduce the risk of developing an infection.

Use Ice or Ice Packs
Once the sting site has been washed and cleaned properly, apply an ice pack on the area. Ice can help numb the area and reduce the pain. It can also help contain the swelling.

Apply a Hydrocortisone Cream
Hydrocortisone creams can reduce the severity of the reaction to bee stings. These topical steroid medications are often employed for alleviating the symptoms of insect bites. A hydrocortisone cream can reduce the itching and redness caused by insect bites to a great extent.

Apply Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion can soothe the sting site, and thus, reduce the itching, redness, and the skin irritation caused by insect bites. Calamine lotion contains zinc oxide, along with ferric oxide or a zinc carbonate compound, which help reduce the itching and irritation caused by bee stings.

Use Antihistamines
For severe itching, you may need an antihistamine cream. Oral antihistamines can be required, if you develop an allergic reaction to bee stings. The signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction are, hives or skin rash, unusual swelling of the mouth, face, or the throat, breathing difficulty, wheezing, rapid pulse, and dizziness. If you experience any of these symptoms, inform your health care provider as soon as possible.

Take Pain Killers for Severe Pain
You can use over-the-counter pain killers or analgesics like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, if the pain is not relieved by the application of ice and hydrocortisone cream. You can also use a bee-sting swab on the affected area to reduce the pain.

Try Some Home Remedies
Certain home remedies can also help relieve the pain, swelling, and the irritation caused by bee stings. You can consider the following remedies, if you happen to be stung by a bee or any other insect.

✧ Slather some toothpaste on the sting. You can experience a tingling sensation after applying the toothpaste, which can help relieve the itching. Reapply the toothpaste on the affected area after every 5 hours.

✧ Make a paste by mixing vinegar, baking soda, and a meat tenderizer. Apply the paste on the sting site. The papain found in meat tenderizers can help break down the toxins present in bee venom.

✧ Spread some honey on the sting. Honey has antibacterial properties, and it can soothe the inflamed area.

✧ Sprinkle some apple cider vinegar on the affected area. Otherwise, soak a cotton ball in cider vinegar, and dab it on the sting to get relief from the itching.

Complications Associated with Bee Stings
A bee sting usually causes a small, localized skin reaction, characterized by intense burning pain, redness, and swelling. A small itchy lump or papule can develop a few hours following the bite. Sometimes, one may develop a small, fluid-filled lump on the sting site that can cause a lot of itching and skin irritation. A single bee sting usually does not cause serious complications, but multiple stings can cause the accumulation of a large amount of venom in the body, which can induce a toxic reaction.
A single sting can also produce an allergic reaction in some individuals. The body may produce a specific antibody against the insect venom, which can cause an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction to bee stings can produce the following signs and symptoms:

✧ Skin rash or hives
✧ Itching
✧ Unusual swelling of the face, mouth, and the throat
✧ Shortness of breath

The pharynx and the epiglottis can get inflamed, and the bronchial passage can become narrow due to an allergic reaction. This can cause shortness of breath. Bee stings can sometimes trigger a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis. This life-threatening condition can produce the following signs and symptoms:

✧ Hypotension
✧ Hives and itching
✧ Nausea and vomiting
✧ Abdominal pain
✧ Dizziness
✧ Tightness in the chest and wheezing

Apart from these, the venom can sometimes cause fever. If you experience fever, and any of the aforementioned signs or symptoms of an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis after being stung by a bee or other insects, please seek immediate medical attention. If a bee stings you in some sensitive areas like the mouth or the nose, inform your physician immediately and seek emergency medical attention. Physicians can prescribe epinephrine, and certain steroids and antihistamine medications, if the condition is really serious. A breathing tube may be required, if the patient develops respiratory complications.

To sum up, if the sting produces mild pain and swelling, try some simple first aid treatments, like ice or calamine lotion. But if you experience severe pain, fever, and the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and anaphylaxis, inform your physician at the earliest.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.