Stung by a bee when you were pottering around in the garden? Bee stings may hurt a lot but they needn’t always mean a trip to the emergency room. Here’s what you need to know to decide whether to rush for medical help or head to your kitchen or garden.
What Happens When A Bee Stings?
When a bee, especially a honeybee, stings you, a barbed stinger that has a venom sack attached to it gets stuck in your body. The venom, and germs if any, from the bee’s body can cause reactions in your body.
Reactions to a bee sting manifest on three different levels – local, systemic, or anaphylactic.
- A localized reaction shows up as pain, swelling, itching, and tenderness which may increase over 2–3 days and then gradually subside.
- A systemic or generalized reaction is likely to set in within a few minutes of the sting and will manifest as a full-body rash, nausea, wheezing, vomiting, stomach pain or even fainting.
- An anaphylactic reaction is an extreme form of the systemic response. it can manifest within a few seconds and will
While people who are extremely sensitive to bee stings can even die from a single sting, there is a reported case of a man receiving 2243 stings and surviving! It all depends on how your body reacts to the toxins.2
Infections from bee stings are extremely rare and have not been studied as a medical phenomenon. However, an immunocompromised victim could be in danger of a bee sting leading to an infection.3
Immediate Steps After A Bee Sting
Reach out for immediate medical help if
- You are not able to breathe properly, vomit, and/or feel unsteady. You may also break out in
- The bee sting is close to or in the mouth or nose. Complications in these regions can interfere with breathing.4
However, if the bee sting results in pain, redness, swelling, and itching, you can breathe easier.5 This reaction will still hurt and make you uncomfortable, but it won’t be dangerous like an anaphylactic reaction. You can find a quick remedy right at home.
Understanding Bee Sting Allergy
When someone is allergic to insect stings their immune systems overreact to the venom. In a person with bee sting allergy, after the first sting the body produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). With subsequent stings, the venom interacts with this specific antibody and triggers the release of substances that cause an allergic reaction.6
Generally, the reactions are fairly mild when a person is stung for the first time. However, future bee stings are likely to result in severe reactions – this could be 60% more severe than the reaction to the first sting. A sting victim with a known allergy should be rushed to emergency medical care.7
Special Precautions For Children With Allergies
Allergies are often hereditary, so if you have a bee sting allergy, there are chances of your child getting it too. If your child is not allergic to bee stings, you can expect a normal reaction with symptoms that will subside with a cold compress, some topical remedy … and some hugs and kisses!
However, if your child’s allergy to bee stings is a known fact, there are certain precautions that you must take.
- Make sure that your child always wears a medical alert bracelet/necklace.
- You should also ensure
- Keep your child’s nails short. If they scratch the affected area and break the skin, it could result in a bacterial infection.
First Aid For Pain, Swelling, And Irritation After Bee Sting
Once you are sure the sting isn’t causing any serious reactions, you can tend to it at home with some simple steps and time-trusted home remedies.9
1. Remove The Stinger
Use your fingernails or a pair of tweezers to gently remove the stinger. Don’t squeeze too hard as it may release more venom.The sharp edge of a credit card may do the trick too. You could also try removing the stinger by putting a strip of adhesive bandage over it and ripping it off soon after.10
The Affected Area
Wash the area with soap and water and apply a cold pack to reduce pain and swelling. If possible, elevate the injured part.
3. Soothe The Skin
Over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-itching creams will help reduce the pain and irritation. You can also use calamine lotion or one of the following natural home remedies.
Soothing Home Remedies For A Bee Sting
1. Aloe Vera
How to use: Just take an aloe leaf, slice it, scoop out some gel, and apply it on the sting. Don’t have a plant handy? The gel is available commercially.
Calendula is mildly analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic in nature and quite
How to use: Dried calendula petals can be steeped in hot water, strained, cooled and the resulting liquid can be applied repeatedly on the affected area.14
Comfrey is antiseptic in nature, reduces inflammation, and helps heal wounds. Do remember, though, comfrey is toxic. So, take care that no part of the plant or any preparation made using the plant is ingested.15
How to use: Fresh or dried comfrey leaves or root can be moistened with water and applied to the sting. You can also steep the dried plant in hot water for 10–15 minutes, strain, cool, and apply on the affected area.
A herb with immune-boosting qualities, echinacea helps disinfect the site of the bee sting. It also helps numb the pain and heal the wound, and acts as a blood purifier.
How to use: Echinacea can be applied in tincture form.16
The use of onions on a bee sting will help reduce inflammation and bring down the pain.
How to use: Slice an onion and place the slices on the affected area.17
6. Black Tea
The antioxidants in black tea can help reduce swelling.
How to use: A moistened tea bag, placed on the sting, will bring relief.18
7. Sandalwood And Turmeric Paste
Club the soothing properties of sandalwood with the anti-inflammatory action of turmeric to bring down swelling and itching and give you relief.
How to use: Make a paste with equal parts of sandalwood powder and turmeric powder in water and apply it on the affected area. Wait for the paste to dry. Once the paste dries up, remove it, clean the skin. Reapply a fresh batch after a while.19
Ayurveda suggests ingestion of ghee or clarified butter for internal antihistamine action. This helps reduce symptoms resulting from a mild allergic reaction.20
How to use: Simply, add a few spoonfuls of ghee to hot food such as soups or rice.
If your symptoms have not subsided or there is any increase in the severity of your symptoms in 3–4 days, it would be best to see your doctor. While not all stings can be prevented, small precautions like avoiding brightly colored clothing and/or floral perfumes during outdoor activities such as hikes or park outings can help keep the bees away. Also, be sure not to disturb hives or nests. Most species of bees are non-aggressive and will return the favor if you leave them alone!
|↑1, ↑2||Winston, Mark L. The biology of the honey bee. Harvard University Press, 1991.|
|↑3||Truskinovsky, Alexander M., James D. Dick, and Grover M. Hutchins. “Fatal infection after a bee sting.” Clinical Infectious Diseases 32, no. 2 (2001): e36-e38.|
|↑4||Mosbech, Holger. “Death caused by wasp and bee stings in Denmark 1960–1980.” Allergy 38, no. 3 (1983): 195-200.|
|↑5||STINGING INSECT ALLERGY. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.|
|↑6||Reisman, Robert E. “Stinging insect
|↑7||Zuckerberg, Aaron L., and Paula J. Schweich. “An arm red and hot: Infection or not?.” Pediatric emergency care 6, no. 4 (1990): 275-277.|
|↑8||Bee Stings Symptoms & Causes. Boston Children’s Hospital.|
|↑9||Bites and Stings. American College of Emergency Physicians.|
|↑10||Beware of Bug Bites and Stings. U.S. Food & Drug Administration.|
|↑11||Surjushe, Amar, Resham Vasani, and D. G. Saple. “Aloe vera: A short review.” Indian journal of dermatology 53, no. 4 (2008): 163.|
|↑12||Badole, Sachin L., Pranita P. Bagul, and Farid Menaa. “Aloe vera: Use for Skin Disease.” In Bioactive Dietary Factors and Plant Extracts in Dermatology, pp. 475-479. Humana Press, 2013.|
|↑13, ↑14||Calendula. University of Maryland Medical Centre.|
|↑15||Comfrey. University of Maryland Medical Centre.|
|↑17||Dorsch, Walter, and Johannes Ring. “Suppression of Immediate and Late Anti‐IgE‐Induced Skin Reactions by Topically Applied Alcohol/Onion Extract.” Allergy 39, no. 1 (1984): 43-49.|
|↑18||Blanc, Paul D., Ware G. Kuschner, Patricia P. Katz, and Edward H. Yelin. “Reanalysis of Blanc PD et al,“Use of herbal products, coffee or black tea, and over-the-counter medications as self treatments among adults with asthma”.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 106, no. 1 (2000): 196.|
|↑19||Johnson, Katrina A. “Mosquito Bites and Bee Stings.” California College Of Ayurveda, 2012.|
|↑20||McIntyre, Anne. Herbal treatment of children: Western and Ayurvedic perspectives. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2005.|