Bee prepared to deal with spring and summer stings

Bee prepared to deal with spring and summer stings

A bee sting can be a traumatic experience.

Best case is a local reaction – acute pain, swelling and itching near the site of the sting. It might last for a day or so.

But a sting can be life-threatening for those allergic to bee venom. An allergy can cause a generalized reaction – a potentially much more serious situation. Stings in these people may cause anaphylaxis and can be  fatal. Every year, 90-100 people in the U.S. die as a result of allergic reactions to stings, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Next time you or a child receives a nasty sting, Dr. Allison Remesz, an Advocate Medical Group family medicine physician practicing in South Holland, Ill., says to look for these signs of a generalized allergic reaction:

  • Feelings of uneasiness, tingling sensations and dizziness
  • Generalized itching and hives
  • Swelling of the lips and tongue
  • Wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Collapse and loss of consciousness

“These symptoms usually develop very quickly and are usually very apparent,” says Dr. Remesz. “Anyone who has any of these symptoms should go to the emergency department immediately.”

She adds that people who know they’re allergic should always have access to an epinephrine auto-injector, and they need to be prepared to use the auto-injector at the first sign of an allergic reaction.

However, if there is no sign of a generalized reaction, Dr. Remesz says that there are some things you can do to deal with the sting without professional medical attention.

  1. Remove the stinger with a dull-edged object

Following a honeybee sting, the stinger should be removed as quickly as possible. In many cases, the bee also leaves behind the venom sac, which continues to pump venom as long as it stays intact. So, the sooner you remove it and the stinger, the sooner you stop the flow of toxins.

Dr. Remesz recommends a blunt object such as a credit card, butter knife or finger nail, or some gauze, gently scraped across the affected area to get rid of the stinger. She strongly advises against using tweezers or anything else that could puncture or squeeze the venom sac and make symptoms worse.

  1. Apply a cool compress, cold pack or ice

Once the stinger is out, a cool compress or ice pack can help dull the pain and reduce some of the swelling. An antihistamine taken by mouth or applied as a cream can also help with itching and swelling.

  1. Elevate the area

Depending on the location of the sting, elevating the area can also help minimize swelling.

“The amount of swelling after a sting can often be surprising – and concerning,” says Dr. McGowan. “For instance, a sting on the hand can result in the hand swelling up to almost twice its normal size.”

She adds that this swelling, along with the area feeling warm and tender, can be confused for infection—also known as cellulitis. People should know, she says, that it’s rare for infection to develop after a sting, especially within the first few days. The swelling caused by a local reaction may go down within a few hours, but it can take a few days to go away completely.

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  1. This article is misleading by just referring to bee stings. While bees occasionally will sting if squeezed, it is wasps that are the aggressive stingers- just being near their holes will disturb them and they will come out stinging. Paper wasps, yellow jacket hornets and other long-bodied are much more likely to be the culprit causing stings. We NEED the bees as pollinators, especially bumble bees, who are really not aggressive stingers like wasps are. Lumping everything together as bees is not helpful.

  2. this article is not misleading – I ran over ground bees while mowing a few years ago and was stung half to death. I’ve been stung by a single wasp before – it was nothing compared to being chased by these – the most aggressive bees, way worse that wasps or hornets.

  3. Do not confuse bees and wasps/hornets/yellowjackets (order Hymenoptera) etc. They are different species and act in completely different ways. Black and yellow striped insects are NOT always bees. There are even flies (order Diptera) which are black and yellow called “bee mimics.” So-called “ground bees” are more than likely yellowjackets which put me in an ambulance a year ago in late summer. We just installed a bee house for leaf cutter bees. Learn the differences and you will be much more confident and comfortable out in the garden.

About the Author

Nate Llewellyn
Nate Llewellyn

Nate Llewellyn, health enews contributor, is a manager of public affairs at Advocate Medical Group. Nate began his career as a journalist and builds daily on his nearly 20 years of writing experience. He spends most of his free time following his wife to their two sons’ various activities.