For most people, a bee sting is just a nuisance. You may experience temporary pain, redness, and itching at the sting site, but no serious complications.
Unless you’re allergic to the bee’s toxin or experiencing signs of a severe allergic reaction, you can treat most bee stings at home.
In addition to basic first aid, certain home remedies have long been believed to soothe inflamed skin and reduce itching. These include applying honey, witch hazel, and even toothpaste!
We’ll break down traditional medical treatments of a honey bee sting, common approaches to relieving milder sting symptoms at home, and how to recognize an allergic reaction.
Here are the most important steps in first aid for a honey bee sting:
- Remove the stinger quickly.
- Wash the area with soap and water.
- Avoid scratching, as this can lead to infection.
It’s usually advised that you brush or scrape the stinger out using a piece of gauze, your fingernail, or even a credit card. Pulling or pinching it out isn’t ideal, but may be necessary.
After these steps, the following reliable approaches can help treat the sting and minimize your discomfort.
Cold compresses reduce pain and swelling by limiting blood flow to the area.
It’s important that you don’t put ice directly on the skin, as it can burn you. Icing for 20 minutes or less is ideal.
Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Motrin or Advil, may help lower your body’s inflammation, and relieve pain.
You can also treat itching and redness with hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion.
Taking an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl or Zyrtec may bring relief from itching and swelling in particular. Antihistamines help our immune system calm down from an allergic response.
Anything more than a mild allergic reaction should be evaluated by a doctor right away.
What happens to the bee after it stings me?
Did you know that only female honey bees have stingers?
When the bee stings you, its stinger lodges in your skin. This ultimately kills the honey bee, as the release of the stinger also tears out the bee’s lower body.
Honey bees are the only type of bee that die after they sting. Wasps, including hornets, and other species of bee, such as the carpenter bee, don’t lose their stingers. This means that they can sting you more than once.
Bees aren’t aggressive by nature. They’ll only sting when threatened or protecting their hive. It’s important not to capture or chase honey bees or touch their hive.
Leave beekeeping to the experts — save yourself a sting, and save the bees!
Bee stings are often treated with a combination of both traditional first aid and home remedies.
Several of the most common at-home treatments for bee sting symptoms aren’t supported by scientific research. Yet they’ve been passed down for generations and continue to be popular.
It’s important to remember that none of these home remedies should cause more pain or make the sting worse. Should this happen, stop and clean the sting with soap and water, and don’t try that approach again.
Honey may help with wound healing and infection prevention.
Honey is also believed to release oxygen into wounds to aid healing and help flush out dead tissue.
To treat bee stings with MGH or household honey, apply a small amount to the affected area. Cover with a loose bandage and leave on for up to an hour.
Here are more articles on using honey:
- How, When, and Why Honey Is Used for Wound Care
- 7 Unique Health Benefits of Honey
- Everything You Should Know About Manuka Honey
2. Baking soda
A paste made of baking soda and water can help with a variety of insect bites and stings. It’s believed baking soda can neutralize bee venom, reducing itching and swelling.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives the
- Mix 1 teaspoon water with enough baking soda to make a thick paste.
- Rub the paste over the affected area.
- Leave on for 10 minutes.
- Rinse off.
Another suggestion is to cover the paste with a bandage to help it take effect and leave it on 15 minutes before washing it away.
There’s no real scientific evidence that toothpaste can help bee stings. However, people claim that the alkaline toothpaste (high pH) neutralizes the acidic honey bee venom (low pH). If this is true, however, toothpaste won’t work on wasp venom, which is alkaline.
Similar to baking soda, it’s believed that toothpaste will draw out venom. Mint types are also said to provide a cool, soothing effect.
Either way, toothpaste is an inexpensive and easy home remedy to try. Simply dab a bit on the affected area, and wipe away after 10 to 20 minutes.
4. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is used for a wide range of health and wellness purposes, from improving skin conditions to helping manage diabetes. While not all of its uses are supported by research, it’s
Some people believe apple cider vinegar can neutralize bee venom, prevent infection, and lower inflammation.
Soak the site of your bee sting in diluted apple cider vinegar for at least 15 minutes. You can also wet a bandage or cloth in the vinegar and then apply it to the sting site. Stop this approach if it causes irritation.
5. Aspirin paste
Another long-standing home remedy for reducing the discomfort of a bee sting is to apply wet aspirin — or aspirin paste — to the sting site. This consists of crushing up an uncoated aspirin tablet and mixing the powder with water into a paste.
6. Plant extracts and essential oils
These naturally occurring topicals are associated with wound healing and may help relieve symptoms of a bee sting.
Some of the support behind these remedies is anecdotal. However,
Here are some natural remedies to consider:
- Aloe vera has a variety of uses, including
soothing irritated skin. You can buy the gel or make your own if you have an aloe plant. Simply break off a leaf and squeeze the gel directly onto the affected area.
- Witch hazel is a natural astringent and antiseptic. It’s considered a go-to home remedy for insect bites and bee stings that can prevent infection, and reduce swelling and pain. Apply witch hazel (which comes as a clear liquid) directly to the bee sting as needed.
- Calendula cream is an antiseptic used to heal minor wounds and ease skin irritation. Apply the cream directly to the sting site and cover with a bandage.
- Lavender essential oil has anti-inflammatory abilities and can help relieve swelling. Dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil. Dab a few drops of the mixture onto the sting site.
- Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and may ease bee sting pain and prevent infection. Mix with a carrier oil and apply a drop to the sting site.
Most people who are stung by a honey bee have no physical symptoms aside from discomfort at the site of the sting. Mild allergic reactions may cause increased swelling and redness at the sting site.
If you’re very allergic to the bee’s toxin, or if you get stung multiple times, bee stings can cause a more serious allergic response. The
In such rare cases, bee stings may cause a life threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This happens when your immune system overreacts to the allergy trigger, sending your body into crisis mode. Symptoms can start within minutes or take up to a half-hour to show up.
Anaphylaxis is always a medical emergency and requires hospitalization.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), key symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- hives (red and itchy welts on skin)
- turning pale or red-faced
- swelling of the tongue and throat
- difficulty breathing
- coughing or wheezing
- nausea and vomiting
- stomach cramps
- loss of consciousness
When it comes to anaphylaxis and other severe allergic reactions, multiple treatments are often used together.
This includes the following
- Epinephrine (EpiPen). If you’ve had anaphylactic shock after a bee sting in the past, you’ll need to carry an EpiPen with you at all times. The pen delivers a shot of epinephrine (adrenaline), which counters your body’s allergic response. It opens airways and helps stabilize your blood pressure.
- Oxygen. At the hospital, oxygen therapy may be used to assist your breathing.
- IV antihistamines. Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine and promethazine can be administered intravenously to help your immune system calm down. They reduce histamines, substances in our blood that cause allergy symptoms.
- IV and oral corticosteroids. This class of medications imitates cortisol, a naturally occurring hormone that regulates a lot of biological processes in our bodies. Corticosteroids lower immune system activity to allow inflammation to calm down.
Should you be stung by a bee again, using an EpiPen may prevent a severe allergic reaction, although you still need to go to the hospital.
It’s important to let family or friends know that you carry an EpiPen. In case of emergency, they can administer it if you’re unable. The pen is usually injected into the thigh.
If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing a serious allergic reaction to a honey bee sting, contact emergency services immediately. Anaphylactic symptoms like trouble breathing and a rapid pulse can quickly become life threatening. Administering epinephrine as soon as possible greatly reduces the risk of death.
If you’re worried about a mild allergic response, or if the sting area isn’t healing, reach out to your doctor. In rare cases, bee stings can become infected. This may require topical or oral antibiotics.
Honey bee stings can be painful, but discomfort is usually temporary. If a bee stings you, try to remain calm, and remove the stinger promptly. Clean with soap and water, and use ice to reduce the swelling.
Various home remedies — including honey, apple cider vinegar, and aloe vera gel — are believed to help prevent infection, soothe skin, and promote wound healing. Some of these approaches rely mostly on anecdotal support, while others are backed with research.
Serious allergic reactions to bee stings can occur. It’s important to seek emergency assistance if experiencing trouble breathing, hives, or other symptoms of anaphylaxis. Those with a known bee allergy should always carry an EpiPen.
For most people, a bee sting resolves within a few hours and is healed completely within days. Keep tabs on the stung area and your symptoms.