While the skin-piercing jab of a bee sting can hurt, it’s really the venom released by the stinger that triggers the lingering pain, swelling, and other symptoms associated with this warm-weather flyer.
Removing a honeybee’s stinger quickly helps lessen the pain, but it has to be done carefully.
If you’re spending any time outdoors, here’s what you can do if you or someone close to you gets stung, and what to know about the insects other than bees that might be doing the stinging.
It’s not always easy, especially if you’re dealing with a frightened, crying child, but remaining calm after a bee sting is very important. You want to work fast, but you don’t want to make the injury worse.
A bee’s stinger is barbed, (unlike a wasp’s, which is straight and doesn’t come off the wasp). The barb is part of what makes a bee sting painful, and why removing bee stingers takes a little effort.
Take a good look at the site
Once you’ve identified the location of the sting, take a second to examine the stinger. If possible, try to gently scrape the stinger out with your fingernail.
Gently pull skin flat
If the location of the sting is in an area with folds of skin, like between the thumb and forefinger, you may need to stretch the skin a little to expose the stinger.
Pull or scrape
Some experts advise against using tweezers or squeezing the skin to help push the stinger out, because it might cause the release of more venom.
However, other healthcare providers suggest that the speed of stinger removal is more important than the method.
There’s little research on the subject, but one
If your fingernails are too short to scrape a stinger out, the edge of a credit card can work just as well.
Gently scrape the site of the sting until the stinger slides out. If no credit card, driver’s license, or similar item is readily available, then you can use any straight edge, such as a ruler or the back of a key.
The venom sac is usually, but not always, attached to the barbed stinger.
So, when you scrape or pull the stinger out, the venom sac should be visible at the top of the stinger.
Don’t worry if you don’t see the venom sac, but take a moment to examine the site of the sting to make sure you removed everything.
Keep in mind that wasps and hornets don’t leave a stinger and venom sac behind. If you don’t see anything at the site, it could be because something other than a bee stung you.
Also, if you’ve been stung more than once by a single insect, then it probably wasn’t a honeybee. A single honeybee stings once, loses its stinger, and then dies. Other bee species are able to sting more than once.
Once the stinger is removed — if one was left behind — you should begin treating the wound and addressing your symptoms.
Follow these steps:
- Wash the affected area with soap and water.
- Apply a cold pack to the site to reduce swelling and pain. Wrap the cold pack in a clean towel or cloth and place it on the site for 10 minutes, then take it off for 10 minutes. Repeat this pattern until the pain subsides. If swelling or other symptoms develop elsewhere on the body, such as the face, call 911. It could indicate an allergic reaction.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Just be sure these medications don’t interact with other medications you already take.
Individuals who know they’re allergic to stinging insects should talk with their doctor about how to respond to stings. Family members and friends should also have this information.
If you’re stung and allergic to bee strings, or the sting victim close to you is, use an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an EpiPen, to reverse the symptoms. Then call 911 or your local emergency services number.
If there’s no epinephrine injector available, call 911 immediately.
The steps for how to remove a bee stinger are the same for how you would want to remove the stinger of a wasp or hornet. But there are differences worth noting.
The more you know about the stinging insects that may inhabit your yard or anywhere you spend time outdoors, the better prepared you’ll be if you’re ever on the receiving end of a painful sting.
Do yellow jackets leave stingers?
Not usually. A yellow jacket is a type of wasp and tends to be more persistent than honeybees or bumblebees.
And unlike honeybees, yellow jackets don’t have a barbed stinger that gets left behind. Instead, yellow jackets sometimes bite the skin to get a firm grip, and then can sting several times in the same location.
Do other wasps leave a stinger?
Wasp stings are among the most painful insect stings, according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index developed by entomologist Justin Schmidt. What makes that even more concerning is that wasps don’t leave their stingers in place and can attack more than once.
Do hornets leave stingers?
Hornets are similar to wasps, and they also can tend to be more aggressive than bees. Additionally, with no barbs, hornets don’t leave their stinger in the skin. They can also sting multiple times.
If it’s a bite and not a sting
Horseflies, midges, and other flies can bite, causing pain and skin irritation. Washing the area with soap and water, then covering any bites with hydrocortisone cream, can help reduce any itching.
Some bees have barbed stingers and some don’t. Honeybees typically sting once then die. Unlike honeybees, wasps and hornets are capable of stinging multiple times.
In all of these cases, if a stinger gets left behind, you’ll be able to see or feel it.
Removing a honeybee’s stinger quickly and carefully can reduce the amount of venom released into the body.
A fast, thorough removal means you should experience less pain and other symptoms. Simply scraping the stinger out with a fingernail, credit card, or other straight edge usually does the job.
If you need tweezers, be careful not to cause more pain by gouging the skin.
Wasps and hornets don’t usually leave stingers in place, but treatment for all types of stings is the same: Clean the site and apply ice to ease pain and swelling.