Bee and Wasp Sting

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Bee Sting Treatment

When bees or wasps sting a person, they inject venom through their stinger into the skin of the victim. Wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets have stingers without barbs that are usually retracted upon stinging, and these insects can sting people multiple times. The honey bee has a barbed stinger that remains in the victim's skin with its venom sack attached. About 3% of people stung by bees and wasps have an allergic reaction to the sting, and up to 0.8% of bee sting victims experience the severe and life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Most people will have only a localized reaction to a bee sting. In the normal reaction to a bee sting, the skin is reddened and painful. Swelling and/or itching may also occur, but the pain usually disappears over a few hours. In the so-called large local reaction to an insect sting, the swelling, redness, and pain may persist for up to a week. Areas adjacent to the site of the skin may also be involved in the large local reaction.

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Bee and wasp sting facts

  • Bees and wasp stings may produce local reactions or systemic (body-wide) allergic reactions.
  • Localized pain, redness, and swelling are the most common reaction to a sting.
  • Severe allergic reactions to stings are known as anaphylactic reactions and may be life-threatening.
  • Treatment of a local reaction involves cleansing, removal of the stinging apparatus if present, and application of ice packs.
  • Epinephrine is the treatment of choice for severe allergic reactions.
  • A self-administered injectable form of epinephrine is available for individuals at risk for anaphylactic reactions.

Insect stings overview

Bee and wasp stings are common causes of medical problems. Bees and wasps, together with fire ants, are all related insects that belong to the Hymenoptera order. Bee and wasp stings can cause significant reactions, ranging from localized pain and swelling to serious and even potentially fatal conditions. At least 40 deaths occur each year in the U.S. as a result of serious anaphylactic sting reactions.

What are the types of wasps?

There are over 25,000 species of wasps found throughout the world. Some of the most common wasps include:

  • The yellow jacket and hornet, both of which live in groups, or colonies, in temperate climates.
  • Yellow jackets, which have black and yellow stripes on the abdomen, form underground nests.
  • Hornets are predominantly black with some yellow markings on the head and thorax. Hornets form paper-like nests that are attached to trees, bushes, or buildings.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2015
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