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Bee Stings: Prevention, First-Aid, & Allergic Reactions

The Bee Hunter tells you what to expect if you are stung by a bee or other stinging insect.

Learn about first-aid treatment following a sting, less common but more serious allergic reactions, and, most importantly, how to prevent bee stings altogether.*

Please note: The word “bee” is used interchangeably to mean all stinging insects – hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets.

Getting Stung by a Bee - What to Expect.


Yep, it really is painful. I have been stung many many times over my 25 years of bee hunting, and it never gets any easier or hurts any less. So, what happens if you get stung and what can you do to alleviate the pain and address potentially more serious medical concerns?

If you are stung by a bee, hornet, wasp, or yellow jackets, you may experience:

-A sharp pain and instantaneous burning sensation at the sting site
-A raised, white spot surrounded by a red welt at the sting area
-Slight swelling around the sting area


You will only see a stinger in your skin if a honeybee has stung you. Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets typically do not leave a stinger behind.

If you are not allergic to bee stings, the pain and swelling will go away within a few hours. However, that terrible itching can persist for days.

Bee Sting First Aid


When treating the bee sting, you should remove the stinger right away. Do this by “flicking” or scraping the stinger away from the skin using your fingernail or a credit card. Do not squeeze the venom sac at the end of the stinger. Squeezing it will only inject even more of the bee's venom into your skin. NOTE: Only honeybees will leave a stinger following a sting. Hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets do not typically leave a stinger behind.

Wash the sting site with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, and a hydrocortisone cream to relieve any itching.

You may also consider taking an anti-histamine like Benadryl to relieve itching

Apply ice wrapped in a wet washcloth or a cold pack to reduce swelling.

I have personally been stung innumerable times over the last twenty-five years and have the best results with ice or a cold pack applied directly to the sting site as soon as possible. This immediately alleviates localized burning, swelling, and itching. I then apply a hydrocortisone cream to the affected area twice per day for several days. This simple regimen has always worked very well for me.

Allergic Reactions to Bees & Wasps


If you are allergic to bee stings, you will have a more serious reaction. Symptoms of allergic reactions to bee stings can range from mild to severe. Most severe allergic reactions to bee stings develop within minutes of the sting, but in some cases, serious reactions around the bee sting area can take hours or even a few days to develop. Even if you've only had a minor reaction to bee stings in the past, it is possible to have a more serious allergic reaction the next time you get stung. Also, you could be allergic to bees but not wasps, wasps but not bees. You may also be allergic to all stinging insects.

Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction to bee stings can include:

-A large area of swelling (edema) at the sting site
-Itching or hives all over your body
-Cough, chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath

A severe allergic reaction to bee stings can cause:

-Lightheadedness
-Loss of consciousness
-Upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or other digestive issues

Anaphylaxis – as bad as it gets

A medical emergency, anaphylaxis is a full-blown allergy attack that can be life-threatening. If you have symptoms of anaphylaxis following a bee sting, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

-Skin reactions in parts of the body other than the sting area, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin (almost always present with anaphylaxis)
-Difficulty breathing
-Swelling of the throat and tongue or other areas of the body
-A weak and rapid pulse
-Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
-Dizziness or fainting
-Loss of consciousness

Multiple Bee Stings


Most honeybees or bumblebees are not aggressive and only sting in self-defense. In most cases, this results in one or perhaps a few bee stings. However, in some cases a person will disrupt a hive or swarm of bees and get stung multiple times. Some types of bees — such as Africanized honeybees (which we do not have in Pennsylvania) — are more likely than other bees to swarm, stinging in a group.

Bee stings are rarely fatal, in spite of dramatic movie scenes that might make you believe otherwise. But if you get stung more than a dozen stings, you may feel quite sick. Multiple stings can be a medical emergency in children, older adults, and people who have heart or breathing problems.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, bee stings are a minor problem that gets better quickly with home treatment. However, if you have a serious reaction, you will need medical attention.

Call 911 or other emergency services if you have a serious reaction to a bee sting that includes dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, trouble breathing, swelling of the throat or hives. If you were prescribed an emergency epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Twinject), use it right away as your doctor directed.

Make an appointment to see your doctor if bee sting symptoms don't go away within a few days, or if you've had other symptoms of an allergic response following a bee sting.

 

Prevention of Bees and Other Stinging Insects

Look up. Look around. Don't give bees a home near your home.

Look for bees flying back and forth at some small gap, crack, or crevice on the exterior of your home or structure. Pay particular attention to eaves, rooflines, windows, and overhangs. If you discover flight activity that is continuous, direct, and localized, (like a little airport) it is probably the entry point to a bees nest. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THIS ENTRY POINT BE BLOCKED OR SEALED IN ANY WAY. Discovering and removing a bee swarm, bee nest, or beehive early is going to save you a lot of aggravation and money in the long run. Bees just milling around – flying in a manner that is more general and less direct - is probably not indicative of a bees nest.

Close the gaps. Fill the holes.

Bees will gain access through exterior gaps to the nesting sites provided by hollow walls. If you have walls with any type of exterior gap, crack, or crevice that is bigger than 1/8”, you will need to seal them or install screens over them. IMPORTANT; Do not seal such gaps if bees have already nested in them. Follow a similar procedure using sand, soil, or gravel, to fill in any holes in your yard. This will prevent ground bees from nesting.

Please don't feed the bears (or the bees).

A sign at the zoo cautions us against feeding the bears. Feeding the bees is also a bad idea. Bees are attracted to “meats and sweets. “ This is particularly noticeable during the late summer months when people enjoy a BBQ on their back deck. Bees (actually yellow jackets) are drawn to the smell of grilling meats and the sugary sweetness of soda and juices. There is little you can do to prevent this. Grill your steaks and burgers outside, but enjoy them in the kitchen or screened porch away from hungry bees. Oh yeah, don't feed the bears at the zoo either.

Most importantly, don't panic.

Most bees, hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets are less interested in you than they are in their next meal or drink of water. When you see bees or wasps buzzing around flowers, water, or other food sources they are not likely to sting. Even if you see or hear them flying around you, they are not chasing you or “dive bombing” you. Do not swing and swat. Instead, stay still or calmly walk away.

Of course, this all changes when the bees think their nest is being threatened. Stinging insects will attack in significant numbers to defend their home. You can threaten them and provoke an attack simply be being near their nest – especially if you are making noise or causing vibrations of any kind. If you see a nest in or around your home or yard, stay well clear of it and give The Bee Hunter a “buzz.”

Make an appointment to see The Bee Hunter

If you've discovered a bee, hornet, wasp, or yellow jacket nest in or on your home or yard and would like it to be exterminated and removed, call The Bee Hunter for fast professional service. You can contact me at 412-BEE-AWAY (412-233-2929). You can also visit www.TheBeeHunter.com to learn more about me and the services I offer.

*Disclaimer: Bees in different geographic locations may have different characteristics and react differently accordingly. The prevention and first-aid advice given below are based on my experience with bees and other stinging insects in southwestern, Pennsylvania.


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