Symptoms and Signs of Bee and Wasp Stings

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 11/10/2021

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.

Many people have no further problems and the sting resolves, but others may develop systemic and/or more serious symptoms such as

  • whole-body itching,
  • hives, and
  • swelling of the mouth, throat, and tongue.

Other signs and symptoms may include

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.

What Are the Treatments for Bee and Wasp Stings?

Emergency treatment to those who are allergic to these stings may incorporate the following measures:

  • Quickly but safely move the patient away from the stinging insects to stop additional stings.
  • Remove the stinger, if possible, with tweezers or by skin scraping.
  • At the same time, have someone call 911, administer an EpiPen dose or diphenhydramine, if possible, if the person starts to develop a severe reaction (shortness of breath, general swelling of body parts like lips or tongue, for example).
  • Emergency airway (intubation), if necessary

However, not many need emergency care as described above. The following are steps you may do at home or work:

  • Quickly but safely move the patient away from the stinging insects to stop additional stings.
  • Remove the stinger, if possible, with tweezers or by skin scraping.
  • Apply a cold pack to the sting site about 20 minutes per hour.
  • Take oral antihistamines (diphenhydramine, loratadine) to reduce itch and swelling.
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
  • Wash the sting site with soap and water.
  • Consider a tetanus shot booster.

REFERENCE:

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