Sweat bees are a species of bee that live alone in underground hives or nests. Female sweat bees can sting people.

As their name suggests, they’re attracted to people’s sweat (but they eat pollen from plants).

We’ll look at what to do for mild and severe reactions to a sweat bee sting, including when you need to get medically checked.

get medical help if:
  • You’re stung multiple times.
  • You’re stung on the head, neck, or mouth.
  • You have a lot of swelling or pain at the sting site.
  • You have difficulty breathing.
  • You have an allergy to bee stings.

Sweat bees don’t generally sting people, but they can.

Similar to honeybees, they’re not aggressive and don’t want to sting people. You might get stung if you accidentally disturb their nest in the ground or if a bee feels threatened.

In most cases, their stings aren’t harmful. The times a sweat bee’s sting can be harmful are:

  • if you have a severe bee sting allergy
  • if you’re stung multiple times (you don’t need to have an allergy)

Sweat bees are in the same family as honeybees and bumblebees. So, if you have an allergy to bee venom, you might have the same reaction if you’re stung by any of these bees.

Mild reaction

If you’re not allergic to bee venom, you may have mild, local symptoms, like:

  • pain or stinging where you were stung
  • itching at the sting site
  • redness or swelling around the sting
  • a white spot at the sting site

Severe and allergic reactions

If you have a bee sting allergy, you might have a serious reaction called anaphylaxis.

You can also have a severe reaction if you get stung more than once at one time, even if you don’t have an allergy.

Signs and symptoms of a severe reaction include:

  • pale or flushed skin
  • hives or bumps on the skin
  • swelling (face, lips, throat)
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • drop in blood pressure
  • weak or fast heart rate

The stinger of a bee contains a small amount of venom. Pull it out right away if it gets stuck in your skin.

To do this, gently scrape the area with a smooth flat metal object, like a butter knife or the edge of a credit card, to help pull out the stinger.

You can also use a pair of tweezers to remove the stinger, but avoid squeezing the stinger with the tweezers too much. This can push more bee venom into the skin.

Avoid scratching the sting area. Scratching can worsen itching and swelling and may lead to infection.

If you’re allergic to bee stings

If you have an allergy to bee stings, call for help immediately.

Use an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen) to help stop a severe allergic reaction from developing.

Call an ambulance or go to the nearest emergency room right away, even if you’ve used an EpiPen.

If you’ve been stung multiple times

Get urgent medical help if you have more than one sting, even if you’re not allergic to bee stings.

For mild reactions

Home remedies for treating mild bee stings include the following:

  • Cool the area with an ice cube or cold, wet towel.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
  • Apply calamine lotion to ease itching and swelling.
  • Use a paste made out of baking soda and water on the sting site to help reduce pain, itching, and swelling.
  • Soak the area in a basin of vinegar, or place a cloth soaked in vinegar on the sting site.
  • Use a paste of meat tenderizer and water on the sting site to help get rid of pain and itching.
  • Wet an aspirin tablet and put it on the bee sting spot.

If swelling and redness don’t improve or get worse, you may require a doctor’s visit and a prescription for either a topical or oral anti-inflammatory medication, like a steroid.

For severe and allergic reactions

In addition to epinephrine (EpiPen) injection, a doctor may also give you other treatments for a more serious reaction to sweat bee stings. These include:

  • oxygen through a mask to help you breathe
  • antihistamine medication to bring down an allergic reaction
  • hydrocortisone skin cream to reduce swelling, redness, and itching
  • cortisone (steroid) drugs to help ease swelling
  • a beta-agonist like albuterol to help you breathe better
  • If you know you’ll be outdoors or near flowering plants, wear clothes that are light colored or have neutral tones to not attract bees.
  • Stay calm, and don’t swat or try to crush a bee if it’s flying around you.
  • Slowly move indoors or to a shaded area if you can.

Speak to an allergist

A specialized doctor called an allergist can help you identify and stay up to date on your allergies and treatment options.

If you have a bee sting allergy, immunotherapy is something you can talk to your doctor about. It’s a treatment option that may help prevent a severe reaction if you get stung in the future.

Immunotherapy involves getting an injected treatment of bee venom. This helps your body recognize a bee sting the next time you’re stung to avoid an overreaction.

Bee venom immunotherapy may help protect you from a serious reaction to bee stings.

Know where sweat bees are so you can avoid them

Sweat bees like to make their nests in the dirt on the ground. Unlike other bees, they don’t make hives or live in large groups.

You might be able to avoid sweat bees by getting rid of bare dirt in your garden or lawn. Some ways people reduce bare dirt areas include:

  • planting grass or vines
  • covering dirt areas with mulch, pebbles, or garden cloth

Sweat bees are in the same family as bumblebees and honeybees. Unlike other types of bees, sweat bees live alone in nests on the ground.

Sweat bees are generally harmless, but they can sting you if disturbed. Like other bees, their stingers have venom. If you’re allergic to bee stings, you may also be allergic to sweat bee stings.

Sweat bees are typically smaller than other kinds of bees. However, their stings can cause similar signs and symptoms.

Get urgent medical help if you’re allergic to bee stings, or if you get stung more than once at a time.