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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When should I call a doctor about a bee or wasp sting?

Most bee and wasp stings can be treated at home, but some require medical attention. If there is any suspicion at all that a person is having a systemic allergic reaction, seek immediate emergency medical assistance. Signs that a person may be having a systemic reaction include widespread hives or rash, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and swelling in the mouth and throat areas. If a person is stung by an insect whose sting has previously caused an anaphylactic reaction, he or she should also access emergency medical care even if no symptoms are present.

You should also seek medical care if any of the following conditions are present:

  • If you have received multiple stings
  • If the sting is located in the eye or eye area
  • If symptoms of infection (pus, drainage, fever, increasing pain and redness) develop
  • If the initial symptoms worsen or persist for longer than 24 to 48 hours
  • If a sting produces severe symptoms in young children, the elderly, or those with chronic medical problems

How is a bee or wasp sting diagnosed?

In most cases the victim or an observer will have witnessed the sting. Depending upon the type of insect, the stinging apparatus may be found embedded in the skin, but this is not the case with wasps and some types of bees. The characteristic symptoms for each type of reaction along with the history of a sting are typically sufficient to establish a diagnosis.

What is the treatment for a bee or wasp sting?

Treatment for a mild allergic reaction and home remedies

  • First aid for a bee sting involves cleansing the site, immediate removal of the stinging apparatus (if present), home remedies include application of ice or cold packs to the affected area.
  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may be taken to relieve itching and burning. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin), Advil) may be taken for pain relief.
  • If the sting site becomes infected, your doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics.
  • If it has been more than 10 years since your last tetanus booster immunization, get a booster within the next few days.

Treatment for a mild allergic reaction (such as a rash without any breathing difficulty) usually involves the administration of antihistamine medications and sometimes steroid medications to reduce inflammation.

Treatment for anaphylactic reaction

The treatment of choice for life-threatening anaphylactic reactions is epinephrine. Emergency medical treatments may also include steroid and antihistamine medications and insertion of a breathing tube. Intravenous fluids and medications to support cardiovascular function may also be required. Treatment may be begun at the scene by emergency medical personnel and continued in the hospital.

Doctors can prescribe an allergy kit containing self-administered epinephrine (Epi-Pen) for persons at risk for a severe allergic reaction, including those with known allergy to bee or wasp stings. These self-administered injectable epinephrine treatments can be life-saving in many cases. It is important to have kits readily available at home, in the car, at work, etc. and to know how to use them properly.

Immunotherapy is sometimes recommended for those with a history of severe allergic reactions to stings. In this treatment, a series of shots ("allergy shots") are used to provide low-dose exposure to venom. This type of treatment may significantly reduce the chance of future severe allergic reactions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2015

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