The Best Way to Treat a Bee Sting

MATTHIASRABBIONE/iStock via Getty Images
MATTHIASRABBIONE/iStock via Getty Images / MATTHIASRABBIONE/iStock via Getty Images

Nothing ruins a summer day outdoors quite like a bee sting. When a bee's stinger penetrates your skin, it releases venom that activates your body's pain receptors. Swelling, redness, itchiness, and instant pain at the sting site are all common symptoms, and they shouldn't be ignored. That's especially true if the bee's barbed stinger is still embedded in your skin. If you have an unpleasant encounter with a bee, follow these steps to treat the sting as fast as possible.

How to Remove a Bee Stinger

Unlike wasps and other bee species, honeybees leave their stingers behind. As long as it's attached to your skin, a honeybee's stinger can continue pumping out toxins—intensifying your pain even after the bee dies. If you know you've been stung, the first thing you should do is look for the stinger. It will look like a small, dark, needle-like object poking out of the center of the sting site. There may be a round mass on top of it: That's the venom sac.

Some sources recommend scraping the stinger out instead of plucking it with tweezers, as squeezing it could potentially shoot more venom into your body. But there's little evidence to suggest that squeezing the stinger is harmful. After stretching the skin around the sting area taut and getting a good look at it, use whatever removal method is fastest for you. That could be scraping it out with a credit card or fingernail or pinching it out with your fingers or a pair of tweezers.

How to Treat a Bee Sting

Once the stinger is removed—or if you never saw a stinger to begin with—it's time to treat the bee sting. Start by washing the affected area with soap and water. Applying a cold compress to the site can reduce mild symptoms like pain and swelling, as can over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and naproxen.

If the pain and irritation persist, there are several home remedies you can try. Apple cider vinegar, honey, toothpaste, and solutions of baking soda or meat tenderizer have all been touted as ways to relieve bee sting pain. Some say that these substances contain components that either neutralize bee venom or calm the body's reaction to it. The medicinal properties of these remedies haven't been proven, but applying them directly to your skin won't hurt. You can also use over-the-counter topical creams like calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to treat discomfort.

What to Do If You Have an Allergic Reaction to a Bee Sting

The above instructions are for treating a mild reaction to a bee sting. For those who are allergic to insect stings, the venom can trigger potentially deadly anaphylaxis. If you get stung, monitor your body for an allergic reaction. Any redness, swelling, or itchiness should be limited to the sting site. Seeing these symptoms elsewhere on your body could be a sign of something serious. Light-headedness and trouble breathing and swallowing are also signs of anaphylaxis.

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should call for medical help right away. And if you have a history of allergic reactions to bee stings and carry an epinephrine auto-injector, you can use that to immediately treat the reaction before it gets worse.