Bee stings are a common occurrence. They can cause pain, swelling, and, in some cases, allergic reactions. The symptoms usually resolve on their own or with home treatment. However, serious reactions require medical attention.

Sometimes, swelling lasts more than 24 hours. Although it can be uncomfortable, it is normal for swelling to last for up to 7 days. Most people have a bee sting at some point in their lives. In most cases, they experience swelling and pain that go away on their own.

Other individuals may experience allergic reactions, also known as anaphylaxis, to bee stings. They should seek medical attention right away.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of bee stings, how to treat them at home, and what to do if skin remains swollen 24 hours after the initial sting.

hovering bee in the cityShare on Pinterest
Ying Hang Lee/EyeEm/Getty Images

Bees are a crucial part of the food chain. They are responsible for pollinating popular fruit and vegetables, such as apples and squash. However, their sting can cause pain and discomfort.

Learn more about why bees are important to humans and the planet here.

When a bee stings a person, their sharp stinger enters the skin. It then detaches from the bee and latches to the skin with its barb, which is a sharp hook that keeps the stinger in place. In most cases, the venom sac attaches to the top of the stinger.

The venom affects the body and immune system, and individuals will react to it differently.

Research suggests that over time, people may become more sensitive to the venom. This increased sensitivity can in turn cause an allergic reaction, even if a person has never had one before.

If this happens, more serious symptoms will occur, and a person should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

A person’s symptoms will vary depending on the severity of their reaction to a bee sting.

Mild symptoms

People with a mild reaction can experience:

  • swelling in the sting area
  • puffy skin with a change in color
  • a sharp initial pain at the site of the sting

Moderate symptoms

In individuals with a moderate reaction, swelling will remain or increase over a few days. Also, the color of the skin at the site of the sting will change.

Severe symptoms

If a person experiences anaphylaxis following a bee sting, they should seek immediate medical attention. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction and can be life threatening.

The following are symptoms of anaphylaxis, and they will develop quickly:

Learn more about anaphylactic shock here.

As soon as a person notices they have been stung by a bee, they should follow these steps:

  1. Remove the stinger using tweezers or some other object with a hard surface, such as a credit card. Be careful not to squeeze the stinger, as it may release more venom.
  2. Thoroughly wash the affected area using soap and water.
  3. Apply a cold compress to help reduce swelling.
  4. Take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil).
  5. Contact a pharmacist. They can prescribe creams or tablets that will reduce pain and swelling.
  6. Contact a doctor if the pain and swelling persist. If any symptoms of anaphylaxis occur, contact a doctor right away.

Learn more about home remedies for bee stings here.

Individuals may experience swelling in the sting area after the initial sting.

The size of the swelling will vary from person to person, and it may last up to 1 week.

If a person’s symptoms are worsening or if the person is showing any signs of anaphylaxis, they should seek immediate medical attention.

People can treat swelling at home by:

  • taking OTC anti-inflammatory drugs
  • taking antihistamines to reduce the swelling
  • applying a cold compress or ice to the affected area

If any of the symptoms worsen or persist over time, a person should contact a doctor.

People having an allergic reaction to a bee sting should seek medical attention immediately.

Depending on the severity of the allergic reaction, a doctor may inject emergency epinephrine. They may also prescribe topical steroids, oral steroids, or both.

However, if the sting causes breathing difficulties or swelling in the mouth and throat, a person should act fast by self-administering an EpiPen injection into the thigh as quickly as possible or having someone do it for them.

Long-term treatment

In some cases, a doctor may recommend allergen-specific immunotherapy, also known as desensitization. This long-term treatment prevents a serious allergic reaction in the event of a bee sting.

A doctor injects small doses of the venom at regular intervals over a period of 3–5 years. After a while, a person’s body gets used to the venom, and it does not react to it as strongly.

This treatment can help people with existing bee sting allergies.

Learn more about allergen-specific immunotherapy here.

It may be difficult to avoid bee stings when spending time outdoors. However, there are some preventive measures people may wish to consider:

  • Remain calm around bees and avoid batting them away.
  • Cover any exposed skin.
  • Wear shoes outdoors.
  • Apply insect repellent.
  • Avoid strong perfumes that may attract insects.
  • Be careful when gardening near areas and plants that attract bees. Examples of such plants include lavender, foxgloves, and abelia.
  • Close windows and doors when inside on summer days.
  • Cover food and drink when eating outside.
  • Wear clean clothing.

If a person is stung by several bees at once, they should take shelter indoors. When bees sting, they release a chemical that attracts other bees.

Bee stings can cause pain, swelling, and change in skin color. If swelling lasts for more than 24 hours, people should not worry, as swelling can last up to 7 days. However, if it persists beyond that, they should contact a doctor.

Bee stings can differ in severity, and therefore treatment will vary from person to person. Usually, bee sting symptoms will resolve on their own or with home treatment. For example, a person can take OTC medication to reduce swelling.

However, if a person is experiencing severe symptoms, such as nausea or difficulty breathing, they should seek medical attention immediately. They are likely having an allergic reaction, which can be life threatening.