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Symptoms and Signs of Bee and Wasp Stings

Doctor's Notes on Bee and Wasp Stings

Bee and wasp stings are the result of an insect injection of a toxin into humans by means of a stinger. Some bees leave the stinger in the person’s skin. The immediate signs and symptoms occur at the sting site and include immediate pain, redness, swelling and itching may occur; many people have no further problems and the sting resolves but others may develop systemic and/or more serious symptoms such as the whole-body itching, hives and swelling of the mouth, throat and tongue. Other signs and symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, chest pain, wheezing, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure and weakness. These symptoms may lead to death. Call 911 if you or someone you know is beginning to show serious symptoms or immediately go to the closest emergency department. If the person is known to be allergic to these stings and has emergency medicine like an EpiPen, use it to treat the patient. Tape can be used to remove a stinger left in the skin.

The toxins and stinger parts cause the problems seen with bee and wasp stings; the more serious symptoms are due to the body’s immune system overreacting to the stinger and toxins.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Bee and Wasp Stings Symptoms

The severity of a sting is determined by a number of factors. The type of insect, the location of the sting, the number of stings, and the allergic sensitivity of the victim can all affect the outcome. Most people do not have allergic reactions to bee and wasp stings.

Medical problems from bee and wasp stings are broadly broken down into two categories:

  • Local reactions (only the part of the body near the sting is affected)
    • Immediate pain, redness, swelling, and itching at the sting site may occur.
    • A large (greater than four inches across) local reaction may develop over the next 12-36 hours.
    • A bacterial skin infection, although uncommon, may also begin during the first 12-36 hours (or even after the first few days).
    • These may cause an enlarging area of redness at the sting site. It may be difficult to tell a local skin reaction and a local bacterial skin infection apart.
    • Systemic or allergic reactions (parts of the body away from the sting are affected)
    • In severe cases, marked difficulty breathing, unconsciousness, and even death may occur.

Bee and Wasp Stings Causes

Bees and wasps inject venom by stinging unlucky people. Sometimes-especially with bees-the stinger may be left in the skin. The venom is poisonous and may cause direct injury to the human body. This injury is usually confined to the areas close to the sting or stings.

  • Allergic reaction: The vast majority of serious medical problems and deaths result from an allergic reaction. This happens in certain people whose immune systems are overly sensitive (or allergic) to the venom. When they get stung, their body may overreact to the venom, and an allergic reaction may happen throughout their body. These people are frequently described as being allergic to specific insect stings.
    • Some people may die from insect venom anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). These fatal allergic reactions frequently, but not always, occur in people who have had a previous allergic reaction to the same type of insect.
    • Although multiple stings increase the potential danger in allergic cases, a serious or even fatal allergic reaction can (and does) occur from a single sting in a person with no known prior allergic reaction.
    • The vast majority of serious and fatal allergic reactions from stings cause a significant and obvious allergic reaction within an hour of being stung. Most deaths from stings occur within the first hour. Immediate emergency medical care is critical in known or suspected allergic reactions after an insect sting. In rare cases, serious or even fatal allergic reactions may not happen for up to four or more hours after an insect sting.
  • Other complications: Insect stings in nonallergic people, though perhaps painful, usually do not cause serious problems. However, multiple stings may cause serious complications (such as muscle breakdown or kidney failure) and, rarely, even death in nonallergic people.
    • Especially at increased risk are small children, elderly people, and people who are already weak. These serious problems may occur within the first few hours of being stung or may be delayed for days after being stung.
    • Even a single sting in the mouth or throat can cause swelling and obstruction of the airway. Children are at increased risk for these types of breathing problems from a sting.
    • A bacterial skin infection at the sting site may also develop.

Summer Skin-Hazard Pictures Stings, Bites, Burns, and More Slideshow

Summer Skin-Hazard Pictures Stings, Bites, Burns, and More Slideshow

Their tentacles contain venom, so getting stung can be painful or sometimes life-threatening. Stings usually happen by accident when you carelessly handle a jellyfish, or swim or wade among them.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.