Bee stings can cause pain, swelling, and, in some cases, allergic reactions. The sting site can swell for 48 hours after the sting, and swellings can vary in size. Symptoms should resolve in around a week.

Although it can be uncomfortable, it is typical for a sting site to swell for 48 hours after a sting, and swelling can last 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 independently.

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

This article explains the symptoms of bee stings, how to treat them at home, and what to do if skin remains swollen for a period after the initial sting.

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As pollinators, bees are a crucial part of the food chain. However, their sting can cause pain and discomfort.

When a bee stings a person, its sharp stinger enters the skin. It then detaches from the bee and latches to the skin with its barb, 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 people’s reactions differ.

Research suggests that people may become more sensitive to the venom over time. This increased sensitivity can cause an allergic reaction.

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

Learn what to do after a bee sting.

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

Mild to moderate symptoms

People with a mild or moderate reaction can experience:

  • initial pain or burning at the site that lasts 1–2 hours after the sting
  • swelling in the sting area that can grow for 48 hours and last 7 days
  • puffy skin with a change in color that may last 3 days

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.

Anaphylaxis: Symptoms and what to do

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:

  • hives
  • swelling of the face or mouth
  • wheezing
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • a fast heart rate
  • clammy skin
  • anxiety or confusion
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • blue or white lips
  • fainting or loss of consciousness

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
  2. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  3. Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
  4. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.

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Learn more about anaphylactic shock.

It is normal for swelling symptoms to increase for 48 hours after a bee sting.

People can treat swelling at home by:

  • taking OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
  • taking antihistamines to reduce the swelling
  • applying a cold compress or ice to the affected area
  • use a mild steroid cream, such as 1% hydrocortisone cream to reduce itching
  • keep the area raised if possible

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

Learn more about home remedies for bee stings.

Bee stings can be itchy, and the skin around the sting site can feel stretched and tight. However, it is important not to scratch or rub the area, as this could lead to infection.

Some people use home remedies, such as vinegar, honey, and baking soda to treat stings. However, there is not compelling evidence to support their use.

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 have 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 3–5 years. After a while, a person’s body gets used to the venom and does not react as strongly.

This treatment can help people with existing bee sting allergies.

Learn more about allergen-specific immunotherapy.

Bee sting symptoms typically resolve in 7 days. However, in some cases, a person should see a doctor, including:

  • They show signs of anaphylaxis.
  • They have a sting inside the mouth or on the eye.
  • They experience stomach pain and vomiting.
  • The sting looks infected. This is uncommon and usually begins 24–48 hours after the sting.
  • The person seems very unwell.

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 changes in skin color. Sting sites can continue swelling for 48 hours, and the swelling can last 7 days. Redness may last around 3 days.

Bee stings can differ in severity so treatment will vary from person to person. Usually, bee sting symptoms resolve on their own or with home treatment. People can use hydrocortisone to reduce itching and ibuprofen to reduce inflammation.

If a person experiences 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.