With the weather warming up, we will all be spending more time outdoors. With the change in season, though, comes the increase in flying insects. While some are pleasant, like butterflies and ladybugs, other insects like mosquitoes and bees are decidedly less enjoyable to come into contact with. When it comes to bee stings, they are painful but generally harmless; however, some instances do require medical attention. To avoid dangerous allergic reactions to bee stings, it’s important to understand the difference between normal bee sting reactions and those that are more severe.
Mild Bee Sting Reactions
When a bee stings you, they inject their venom into the sting site. This results in instant, sharp pain and minor swelling. Minor pain will usually continue (the stinging sensation we associate with bee stings), and sometimes the skin can appear white where the stinger injected venom. After a bee sting, you should always remove the stinger and attached venom sack; however, stay away from using tweezers. Using tweezers to remove the stinger can inject more venom into the wound, so simply use a clean fingernail or a clean credit card to scrape the stinger away.
Moderate Bee Sting Reactions
Some people may have a more severe reaction to a bee sting that is still considered normal and safe. A very large, swollen welt and extreme redness may appear around the sting site over the 48 hours following the actual bee sting. As long as the reaction is confined to the sting site and does not spread to other areas of the body, no medical attention is necessary. These moderate reactions tend to resolve themselves within five to ten days.
Dangerous Bee Sting Reactions
If the reaction to your bee sting becomes severe and starts spreading outside of the sting site, it’s time to visit the emergency room. While a small number of people who are stung by bees develop a severe allergy, allergic reactions to bee stings are potentially life-threatening and require immediate emergency medical attention. Severe allergy to bee stings, also known as anaphylaxis, presents itself through:
- Skin reactions, such as hives, itching, and flushed sweaty, or pale skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the lips, throat, and tongue
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Dizziness or fainting
- Loss of consciousness
If you are experiencing any of these severe bee sting symptoms, you should call 911 and seek immediate medical attention at the ER. If your airway begins to close, or something else emergent happens, they will be most prepared to help you breathe or stabilize the situation. Use a prescribed emergency epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others) immediately and as directed by your doctor.
If you develop anaphylaxis after a bee sting, you have a 30% to 60% chance of developing it again after your next sting. Be sure to talk to your doctor during warmer months about immunotherapy (AKA: allergy shots) to prevent dangerous bee sting situations in the future.
Treat Bee Stings at First Care Clinics
If you’ve been stung by a bee, apply a cold pack to reduce pain and swelling. Take an oral antihistamine, like Benadryl or Zyrtec, to continue reducing minor reactions (be aware that certain antihistamines will make you drowsy, so plan to stay home or get a driver if you need to leave). If your sting is presenting mild to moderate symptoms, visit First Care Clinics for speedy care — with a fraction of the wait time and cost of the ER, First Care Clinics’ qualified staff will have you in and out in no time. Contact us for locations or more information.
(Those suffering from severe bee sting reactions, such as anaphylaxis, should call 911 and seek immediate medical attention at the ER.)