Bee stings are a common, painful occurrence. When a bee stings a person, it is important to remove the stinger as quickly as possible.

Treating a bee sting can be broken into two steps: removing the stinger and treating the skin. A person with a bee sting, or someone assisting them, should first remove the stinger as quickly and carefully as possible. In most cases they can then use over-the-counter (OTC) medications and home remedies to treat the wound.

If someone has an allergic reaction to the sting, however, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Bee venom causes varied reactions in different people. These reactions can range from slightly uncomfortable to extremely painful. If someone has a bee sting allergy, they could suffer a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Read on to learn how to safely remove a bee stinger, how to treat the skin afterward, and when to contact a doctor.

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These are some important factors to keep in mind after a bee sting:

Act fast

The most important thing is to work quickly. A stinger lodged in a person’s skin may be attached to a venom sac, which will continue to release venom. This venom causes the swelling and pain associated with a bee sting.

Removing the stinger quickly reduces the amount of venom in a person’s body.

Stay calm

It is easy for a person to panic after a sting. However, people should try to remain calm, especially when removing the stinger.

Although most bees only sting once, wasps and hornets can sting multiple times. This is because, unlike bees, they do not leave their stingers behind. People should calmly walk away from the area where the sting happened to avoid further attacks.

There are three recommended steps a person should take when removing a stinger.

  1. Remain calm: People should remain calm to avoid any additional attacks.
  2. Remove the stinger: If the stinger is still in the skin, try to remove it as soon as possible to limit the amount of venom injected into the body.
  3. Wash the site of the sting: Using soap and water, wash the place where the stinger pierced the skin. Cleaning the area will remove any residual venom.

There are two main ways to remove the stinger: scraping with a blunt object (like a credit card) or grasping the stinger and pulling it out.

Some people prefer the scraping method because they believe that pinching the stinger will release more venom. However, a 2020 literature review did not support this idea. The review looked at 23 studies, each analyzing the best way to remove a bee stinger, and found that the speed of removal trumps the method of removal.

There was no evidence that grasping and pulling released significantly more venom, and most researchers said people should remove the stinger in whatever way is fastest and easiest for them.

Bees leave a barbed stinger behind after they sting, along with part of their digestive and nervous system. However, wasps and hornets have a smooth stinger. This means they do not lose it when they sting someone.

If treating a wasp or hornet sting, inspect the site of the sting to ensure there is nothing left in the skin. Then, thoroughly wash the area with soap and water.

After removing the stinger and cleaning the area, the skin will likely be red and puffy. A person can usually treat this at home.

Home treatment methods include:

  • Apply an ice pack: This will reduce pain and swelling.
  • Elevation: If a bee sting occurred on an arm or leg, a person can try elevating the limb to reduce swelling.
  • OTC medication: If the bee sting is painful, an OTC pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil), can provide relief.

Learn more about home remedies for treating bee stings.

Most people have moderate, short-term symptoms following a bee sting and can treat them with straightforward methods. Usually, they do not require medical attention.

However, if someone has a bee sting allergy, they may have an extreme immune response. This requires immediate medical attention.

A bee sting in an allergic individual may cause anaphylaxis. This causes the immune system to release a flood of chemicals, making the person go into shock. During anaphylactic shock, blood pressure drops suddenly, and airways narrow, restricting breathing. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that can be fatal.

Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • nausea
  • tingling sensations
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • swelling of the lips and tongue
  • generalized itching
  • hives
  • loss of consciousness

Seek medical attention

Anyone who experiences any of these symptoms should go to the emergency room right away. A doctor or nurse will treat the allergic reaction with epinephrine, a hormone that relaxes the muscles in the airways and allows the person to breathe normally again.

Use an EpiPen

If a person knows they have a bee sting allergy, they should keep an epinephrine pen (EpiPen) on hand in case of an emergency. People who need this medication can ask their doctor about a prescription for it.

To use an EpiPen, the either the individual or someone else should inject it into the middle of the outside of the thigh. After the injection, the person should still go to the emergency room.

Learn more about how to use an EpiPen.

A doctor may recommend that the individual has a second dose of epinephrine if the symptoms persist or return after the first dose.

Learn more about bee sting allergies.

There are steps people can take to avoid bee stings. These are particularly important for people with known bee sting allergies.

Measures to prevent stings include:

  • avoiding swatting at bees or wasps
  • wearing light-colored clothing
  • avoiding wearing perfume or cologne outside
  • wearing shoes when walking outside
  • staying away from flowering plants

Bee stings are common, and most people will experience them at some point. The most important thing to remember is to stay calm and walk away from where the sting happened. This reduces the likelihood of multiple stings.

If a person or someone they are with is stung, they should look for and remove the stinger. This can be done by either scraping the skin with a blunt object or by grasping and pulling the stinger out. Pick whichever method is quicker and easier –– speed is essential.

Thoroughly wash the area with soap and water, then treat the area with ice. Take OTC pain medication if necessary.

Be aware of the signs of an allergic reaction, including trouble breathing, nausea, and hives. If these symptoms arise, seek emergency medical care immediately. People with bee sting allergies should take extra precautions to avoid stings.