Bee Sting

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.


What is a bee sting?

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).

What types of bees sting?

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:

  • Bumble bee: A bumble bee is an oval-shaped and furry-winged insect that’s mostly black with stripes of yellow. It ranges from half an inch to 1 inch (1.5 to 2.5 centimeters) long. It has six legs on its thorax (middle section) and two antennae on its head. It flies slowly. These pollinators live in nests that are usually in the ground. A bumble bee doesn’t die when it stings you.
  • Honey bee: A honey bee is a slender, furry insect that has a black body with pale yellow or tan stripes. While smaller than bumble bees (about half an inch long), honey bees also have six legs and two antennae. These honey-makers live in hives in hollow trees, on branches or in designated bee boxes that make honey harvesting easier for farmers.
  • Carpenter bee: A carpenter bee is a larger (0.75 inch to 1 inch) flying insect that’s black and shiny with yellow hairs on its middle section (thorax). These bees create nests in wood. They’re fast flyers and can mimic hummingbirds.
Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets

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 are usually black but can appear dark blue (metallic) or red.
  • Yellow jackets are a type of wasp. They’re mostly black with bright yellow bands leading toward their stinger.
  • Hornets are a type of wasp. They’re brown with yellow and orange stripes and have a yellow or orange head.

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.

Do bees die after they sting you?

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.

How common is a bee sting?

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 and Causes

Symptoms of an allergic reaction caused by a bee sting that require medical attention.
Look out for symptoms of an allergic reaction after a bee sting since they require immediate medical attention.

What are the symptoms of a bee sting?

Symptoms of a bee sting include:

  • A sharp, burning pain at the site of the sting.
  • Skin discoloration surrounding the sting.
  • Swelling of the affected area.
  • Itchy skin.

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.

Why do bees sting?

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:

  • Swatting at a bee or trying to catch one.
  • Stepping on a bee.
  • Disturbing its hive or nest.

What are the risk factors for a bee sting?

You may be more at risk of getting a bee sting if you:

  • Are playing or working outdoors near a garden, flowering trees, a hive or a nest.
  • Wear perfume.
  • Wear bright colors outdoors.
  • Harvest honey from bee hives.
  • Try to remove or destroy a bee hive or nest.


What are the complications of a bee sting?

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.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a bee sting allergy diagnosed?

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.

  • Blood allergy test: Your healthcare provider will take a small sample of blood from your vein to test it in a lab. This test measures how antibodies in your blood react to an allergen.
  • Skin allergy test: Your healthcare provider will inject a tiny amount of bee venom under your skin. If you have an allergy, you’ll develop a bump at the injection site during a skin test. Your healthcare provider will monitor you during this test, and it won’t cause a severe allergic reaction.


Management and Treatment

How do I treat a bee sting?

You can treat a bee sting at home by following these steps for bee sting self-care:

  • Remove the stinger. You can use your fingernail, a credit card or gauze to remove the stinger by gently dragging it over your skin to pull it out. Avoid using tweezers since they can inject more venom into your skin when you pinch the stinger. Try to remove the stinger as quickly as possible. This reduces how much venom enters your body.
  • Clean your wound. Use soap and water to clean the area of skin where a bee stung you.
  • Place an ice pack on your skin. You can wrap an ice pack in a towel and place it on your skin to reduce swelling. Elevate the affected area of your body to lessen swelling.
  • Monitor your injury. Visit the emergency room immediately if swelling spreads beyond the site of the sting and you develop symptoms of an allergic reaction.
  • Take an antihistamine or pain medication. Bee stings are painful and can cause itchiness. Antihistamines can reduce skin symptoms, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can relieve your pain. Use these medications as directed on the label. You can also use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to ease itching.

Treating a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting

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.

How soon after treatment will I feel better?

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.


Can bee stings be prevented?

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:

  • Being aware of your surroundings. If you’re outdoors and near flowers or areas where bees are active, be careful not to disturb them.
  • Removing food. Bees are attracted to foods that you might have at a picnic or outdoor event. Try to cover foods and clean up any dirty dishes to keep bees away.
  • Not using floral-scented products. Bees like floral or fruity scents. If you use hair or skincare products that smell like fresh flowers, bees may mistake you for one.
  • Wearing protective clothing. Choose clothing items that cover your skin, like long sleeves and pants, especially if you’re working or playing outdoors. It’s very easy to step on a bee, so wear close-toed shoes instead of bare feet when walking in the grass.
  • Staying calm. Bees aren’t aggressive insects and only sting to protect themselves. If you swat at bees or try to shoo them away, you put yourself more at risk of getting stung. If you stay calm and let the bee pass by, it’ll go away without harming you.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a bee sting?

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.

Living With

When should I go to the ER?

Visit the emergency room or call 911 immediately after a bee sting if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • A tight feeling in your chest.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Hives or a skin rash.
  • Swelling all over your body.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • How do I know if I’m allergic to bee stings?
  • Is it safe for me to take over-the-counter pain medication after a bee sting?
  • How do I use an emergency epinephrine auto-injector?
  • Do I need to get an allergy test if I plan on becoming a beekeeper?

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.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/22/2023.

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