Learn more about symptoms, treatment, self-care tips and prevention of bee stings, which in some people cause severe allergic reaction.
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. 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 or that the next reaction will necessarily be more severe.
Most of the time, bee sting symptoms are minor and include:
In most people, the swelling and pain go away within a few hours.
Some people who get stung by a bee or other insect have a bit stronger reaction, with signs and symptoms such as:
Moderate reactions tend to resolve over five to 10 days. Having a moderate reaction doesn't mean you'll have a severe allergic reaction the next time you're stung. But some people develop similar moderate reactions each time they're stung. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor about treatment and prevention, especially if the reaction becomes more severe each time.
A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to bee stings is potentially life-threatening and requires emergency treatment. A small percentage of people who are stung by a bee or other insect quickly develop anaphylaxis. Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
People who have a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting have a 25% to 65% chance of anaphylaxis the next time they're stung. Talk to your doctor or an allergy specialist about prevention measures such as immunotherapy ("allergy shots") to avoid a similar reaction in case you get stung again.
Generally, insects such as bees and wasps aren't aggressive and only sting in self-defense. In most cases, this results in one or perhaps a few stings. In some cases a person will disrupt a hive or swarm of bees and get multiple stings. Some types of bees — such as Africanized honeybees — are more likely than are other bees to swarm, stinging in a group.
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.
In most cases, bee stings don't require a visit to your doctor. In more-severe cases, you'll need immediate care.
Call 911 or other emergency services if you're having a serious reaction to a bee sting that suggests anaphylaxis, even if it's just one or two signs or symptoms. If you were prescribed an emergency epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others), use it right away as your doctor directed.
Seek prompt medical care if you've been swarmed by bees and have multiple stings.
Make an appointment to see your doctor if:
To sting, a bee jabs a barbed stinger into the skin. 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 do and are more likely to die of anaphylaxis than children are.
The following tips can help reduce your risk of getting stung by bees:
Know what to do when you're exposed to bees:
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 and allergy blood tests are often used together to diagnose insect allergies. 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.
For ordinary bee stings that do not cause an allergic reaction, home treatment is enough. Multiple stings or an allergic reaction, on the other hand, can be a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
During an anaphylactic attack, an emergency medical team may perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. You may be given medications including:
If you're allergic to bee stings, your doctor is likely to prescribe an emergency epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others). You'll need to have it with you at all times. An autoinjector is a combined syringe and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh. Always be sure to replace epinephrine by its expiration date.
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.
Consider wearing an alert bracelet that identifies your allergy to bee or other insect stings.
Bee and other insect stings are a common cause of anaphylaxis. If you've had a serious reaction to a bee sting or multiple stings, your doctor likely will refer you to an allergist for allergy testing and consideration of allergy shots (immunotherapy). These shots, generally given regularly for a few years, can reduce or eliminate your allergic response to bee venom.
If a bee stings you or your child, follow the suggestions below.
The following steps may help ease the swelling and itching often associated with large local reactions:
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:
Some questions you might want to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions, as well.