A bee sting is a painful injury that happens after a bee pierces your skin and injects venom. You can treat minor bee stings at home. Sometimes, your body can react negatively to a bee sting, and it causes a severe allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Pay attention to your surroundings to prevent bee stings.
A bee sting is a wound caused by a bee. A bee is a winged insect that has a barbed, thorn-shaped organ (stinger) at the end of its three-segmented body. These segments include the head, thorax and abdomen. Bees use their stinger to defend themselves and their hive, which is a bee’s home. The stinger contains venom. When a bee stings you, its stinger detaches from its body and sticks in your skin. The puncture of the stinger in your skin combined with bee venom causes symptoms that include pain and swelling.
You may have an allergy to bee venom, which can cause a severe allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention and can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you were stung by a bee and experience symptoms like difficulty breathing or dizziness, call 911 or go to the emergency room (ER).
Bees aren’t aggressive insects, but they can sting when they feel threatened. Only female bees can sting. Many different types of bees can sting you. The most common are:
Other flying insects can also sting you. People easily mistake wasps for bees. Wasps make large paper nests that hang from trees or corners of buildings. These insects can also make nests in the ground. A major identifying factor to separate bees from wasps are that bees are furry and wasps have little to no fur so they appear shiny. Wasps also have a distinct, narrow abdomen, two sets of wings and range from a quarter inch to 1 inch long.
Wasps, yellow jackets and hornets are generally aggressive to protect their nests and can sting if you get close to them. They don’t have barbed stingers and can sting you multiple times.
The honey bee dies after it stings you. This happens because a honey bee’s stinger gets stuck in your skin, and they’re unable to disconnect its stinger from the rest of its body. As a result, the bee’s abdomen and stinger pull away from the rest of its body, which causes the bee to die.
Not all bees die after they sting you. In some instances, a bee can sting you more than once if it feels threatened.
A bee sting is a very common injury. Bees are active in warm climates or temperate climates during long periods of warm temperatures. A bee sting can happen to anyone who comes too close to the insect or bothers its home. Bees are pollinators, which means you’ll find them near flowers or flowering trees. An allergy to insect stings, including bees, accounts for about 5% of the United States population.
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Symptoms of a bee sting include:
In less common cases, you could have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a bee sting. Symptoms of an allergic reaction after a bee sting include:
If you experience any symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, contact 911, your local emergency services number or visit the emergency room immediately. Your symptoms could be life-threatening if left untreated.
Bees are harmless insects unless they feel threatened. Bees use their stinger to defend themselves and protect their hive. A bee can sting you if you bother it by:
You may be more at risk of getting a bee sting if you:
An allergic reaction is the most serious complication of a bee sting. Bee venom causes this reaction. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Most mild bee stings don’t need a diagnosis from a healthcare provider unless they cause an allergic reaction. If you had a negative reaction to a bee sting, your provider may use a blood allergy test or a skin allergy test to see how your body, specifically your immune system, reacts to bee venom.
You can treat a bee sting at home by following these steps for bee sting self-care:
Call 911 or visit the emergency room if you have symptoms of anaphylactic shock. If you have a known allergy to bee stings, immediately use an emergency epinephrine auto-injector that your healthcare provider prescribed to you. Emergency medical services will also use epinephrine to treat your symptoms upon arrival. A severe allergic reaction can be life-threatening and immediate treatment is necessary.
After removing the stinger, your symptoms will start to reduce. You may notice symptoms lessen as soon as a couple of hours after the bee sting. Swelling and skin discoloration usually go away in two to three days. In some cases, it can take seven to 10 days for your skin to clear up.
You can’t prevent all bee stings because insects are unpredictable. You can take steps to reduce your risk of getting a bee sting by:
Bee stings are painful injuries. The pain usually only lasts for a few hours if you have a mild reaction. Symptoms on your skin like swelling, skin discoloration and itching may last for a few days following the sting. Your skin will return to normal once your injury heals.
While rare, severe allergic reactions to bee stings can happen. They’re life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. Quick treatment with epinephrine leads to a positive outcome. If you have an allergy to bee stings, make sure you carry an emergency epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times. Tell your friends and family that you have an allergy and give them instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.
Visit the emergency room or call 911 immediately after a bee sting if you have any of the following symptoms:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Bees are vital for our environment. They pollinate flowering plants, and they help with the fruit and vegetable production that makes up most of what you can find in the produce section at your local grocery store. Unfortunately, the sting of bees isn’t as sweet as the honey they make. Your injury after a bee sting is only temporary and should go away within a few days. In rare but serious cases, a severe allergic reaction can happen. Contact emergency services if you have symptoms of anaphylactic shock.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/22/2023.
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