Bee Sting Reactions

Can you describe the different kinds of reactions caused by bee stings?

Bee Sting Reactions

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Bee venom contains at least nine different components that work together to cause reactions in those stung. When a bee injects its venom under the skin, the child may have immediate reactions (those symptoms beginning within 4 hours), delayed reactions (symptoms that don’t appear until more than four hours after the sting), or both. Classifying the reactions is important both for immediate management and for predicting future problems (Allergy Principles and Practice, Mosby 2003).

Some immediate reactions are classified as local (a two – or three-inch area of swelling, redness and pain that lasts less than 24 hours). Others qualify as large local reactions (those that are larger — often an entire limb — or that last longer, but all symptoms are adjacent to stings). Systemic reactions are allergic responses distant from the sting and include symptoms such as hives, generalized itching, generalized swelling, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, or anaphylactic shock — a severe reaction involving most or all of these symptoms.

A sting on the forehead with swelling of the eyelids is a large local reaction, while a sting on the foot with swelling of the eyelids is a systemic reaction. Large local reactions are rarely serious and rarely portend future severe allergies. Systemic allergic reactions, though, are present and future warning signs.

A fourth type of immediate reaction is the toxic reaction, which can follow multiple stings. This is a direct result of bee venom, and not an allergic reaction. Symptoms can include fever, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and pain. Toxic reactions are rarely serious, but do sometimes sensitize the child and herald future allergic reactions.

Delayed reactions result when the body’s immune system prepares for future stings, but some of the exuberant defense measures inadvertently turn against the body itself. These symptoms begin more than four hours after the initial sting. Delayed reactions include serum sickness (fever, weakness, rash, swelling, and/or intense itching which begin a week after the sting), nephrotic syndrome (inflammation of the kidney), neuritis (inflammation of the nerves), or inflammation of other parts of the body.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Lynn

    I was stung twice on the back of my left leg by a hornet three weeks ago. No anaphylaxis occurred, but I did have a “large local reaction” with an angry red rash at the first puncture site. I was in bed for 2 days with extreme pain. As of last week the rash was still present and I began to experience muscular tightness in my left upper back. On Tuesday my left lower back went out and I could barely walk by Friday.

    Fortunate to live next to an accupuncture center, I learned that my gallbladder is working overtime to push out the venom. Acupuncture, cupping, hip realignment and massage are helping. The rash is gone after an afternoon of treatment and I’m walking again. Resting and drinking warm lemon water to aid the cleansing and employing gentle yoga techniques.

    It’s important that people know that severe sting reactions do not always appear to be life threatening and that your body works systematically to rid itself of the venom. Consider a wholistic approach.

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  2. Jodi

    I was cutting my moms grass today and ran over a yellow jackets nest! One stung me on the ankle and it’s throbbing and hurting all the way up my leg! Is this normal?

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  3. Cassie

    My dad is a 58 year old honey beekeeper and has a construction company. He has been stung on several occasions without complications. About a month ago he was stung roughly 8 times on the top and back of his head. Within 5 minutes he was feeling light headed and strange, he then drove himself home(10 minutes away), when he arrived home and tried to get out of the car he was close to being completely paralyzed and fell down and couldn’t get back up. His wife yelled for the neighbor to come help get him back in the car, she then rushed him to the ER and they told them that he would have been dead within 10 minutes if he hadn’t have went in. He was there for 6 hours being monitored and then cleared to leave. He left with two EpiPens in tow. Our main concern at this point is that he still has something like paralysis in his left leg. He says it feels like it is asleep and its trying to wake up. He can only stand for a few minutes before it gives out. He also says it is very painful & tingly! Thanks for any information anyone can give me!

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  4. Deb

    So why is it that when you get stung by a ground bee the pain stays for days where as a regular bee sting lasts for minutes? With ground bees, it shoots pain through the entire area. Me for example, I got stung in the leg and the pain went through my whole leg.

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  5. Magen O.

    Hello,
    So I want to know what you guys think. A couple of years ago, around five or so, I was stung by a bee and experienced some symptoms that could lead to anaphylaxis ie: intense nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, rapid heart beat.
    I did go to the doctor to run tests around last year to see if I had a severe allergy and would need an epi-pen, but the results came back as “non-severe,” as my doctor said. I was wondering if I should get tested again, or anything else, because I will be going off to university soon where I will be hiking a lot due to the forestry. I also heard that bee stings are typically worse the second time around and I just don’t want to have worse things happen that could’ve been prevented! Thank you!

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  6. Jessica

    Hello all,

    Two days ago I was stung by a yellow jacket on my left side of my head right behind my ear. It got me four time before I could untangle the evil thing from my hair. Now two days later my ear feels like I have an infection and I have lumps going down my neck. I ran a fever, felt very sick to my stomach and dizzy. I hate to run to the ER for something minimal, but I’m worried I should be concerned. Any and all advice is greatly appreciated.

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  7. Jason

    Just been stung on the nose about 2hours ago can anyone give me some advice what to keep an eye out for allergic reactions? The sting has a little dot and is swollen and really painful.

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  8. Kathy

    I was stung by something 10 days ago. Got the usual itching and swelling, which is all but done now. However on about the 5-6th day I got a sore throat that felt more like a thickness at the very back of my tongue. That now seems to be easing up, but now the left half of my upper and lower lip is swollen and sore and appears to be spreading slowly to the right side. Is this bite related? Do I need to seek medical attention? The bite was on the back of the left hand below the thumb.

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    • Hi Kathy,

      I’m not a doctor, but I’m thinking it would be wise to at least call your doctor. Bee reactions seem to be on the rise. The first reaction can happen at any point in life (even if you’ve been stung before without issue). But after one reaction, the next is often worse.

      Hope that helps.
      C~

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  9. nikki

    Two days ago I was stung on my forehead by either a bee or a wasp, not sure which one. However my face, nose, and eyes are swollen. What should I do? My eye is just about closed completely.

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  10. Gaby

    I was stung by a somewhat aggressive insect (can’t tell if it was a bee, wasp etc.) around 11pm. The reaction was a slight difficulty swallowing as well as uneasiness, which occured around 30 min later. Now it’s 2:30am, the pain of the sting starts to weaken, but the swallowing thing hasn’t changed. I also started to feel very nervous, but i can’t tell wether it’s a allergic reaction, or my anxiety combined with tiredness. Should i just go to sleep or do something?
    (I appreciate an immediate answer, but i wrote this mostly because i wanted to calm down and needed a distraction)

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  11. Daniel D

    I had got stung 2.5 days ago. I’ve been reading up and here is my conclusion. I was stung by one wasp, had zero reaction. 2.5 days later I had a severe reaction. This included, vomiting, diharea, head ache. I had vomited 7 times with in the hour. I knew something was up. My mom ran me to the hospital. As luck would have it I made it to the ER before I started to go into severe shock my temp dropped to 95.7F and was severely dehydrated. Only thing I could come up with was, I had a delayed toxic reaction. I know this might not sound right but it happened.

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  12. Summer

    Hello there, it’s been well over a week since I have been stung and honestly the swelling has increased, staying only in my foot where the initial sting is, but also on top of the swollen area I have what could look like a small gnat bite or something, just a small pee thing, but it’s so itchy I am loosing my mind! I’m loosing sleep over it and I don’t know what to do, please help me!!!!

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    • Megan

      I have the same thing. One week ago I got stung in the foot and omg it itches soooo bad I cant take it. Also where I got stung is a lil bump…..any thing to do to relieve the itch?

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  13. Maggie

    hello, I was stung by a wasp almost 3 weeks ago. I had the initial pain, redness, and swelling of my hand. I still have the sting site that is red, scabbed, and extremely tender. My finger has been aching severely through the area I was stung on and it spreads through the rest of my hand, to the point I have to rub it and put pain relieving cream on it, could this be a result of the sting? Should I be worried at all?

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  14. Teresa

    2 months ago I thought I was stung by a wasp, but then it is a reoccurring thing. Have it in my hands and feet. Also numbness in right arm and feet. Can anyone give me a clue?

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  15. William Rhodes

    Hi,

    I got stung by a bee a week ago – of course, my finger swelled up immediately. As you’d expect, the swelling went down after a few days – however, over the course of yesterday and today, my finger has actually become just as swollen as it was a week ago. Is this normal?

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    • Beatriz

      My son is going through the same thing except the swelling went down after a few hours when first stung. have you gotten a reply?

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    • lynda

      my husband was stung by a bee last night in his arm is extremely swollen and I have done several home made remedies but he does a history of DVT and is on coumadin is there any reason for me to take him to the ER. He did get very woozy but there was no anaphylaxis.

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  16. Rosemary McKeever

    Hi,
    I got stung by a a yellow striped Bee last week, & grabbed stinger right away. I put benedryl cream on it & it took sting away immediately. Now 5-7 days later it’s red (2″ spot) & itches profusely! What can/should I do or put on it? My brother had a history & had to take epinephrine after shots.
    Thanx a lot! The itching is bad & when I scratch it makes it worse & kinda burns too, it’s only my second time stung.

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    • Rosemary McKeever

      Sorry, after stings. ?

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  17. Theresa

    My husband was stung multiple times by yellow jackets. Approximately 1-2 weeks later, he has been experiencing severe pain on his right side, (shoulder blade, arm, elbow, mid back), the pain goes from one area to another. the side where he was bitten. Also on his right side where he was bitten, his skin is a bit reddish. Can these pains be a result of the bee stings?

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  18. alisha

    Hi I’m 25 weeks pregnant and i got stung on my hand by a bee. Now my whole hand is swollen. What can I do to stop swelling? Will my baby be ok?

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    • MaryAnne Cristodero

      my daughter was stung by a bee or similar bug and says she took the stinger out (she is 6)
      her hand was red and swollen at the time…
      it is now a week later and it is swollen and red!

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  19. rheannon

    hi, i was stung by a bee about a week ago, but my toes are still the way they where on day one i am about to stick a needle in my one toe just to relieve some pressure. why is this one lasting so long? never had this type of reaction with my other stings. it even feels as if it is in my toe bone…

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  20. Sarah

    I stepped on a bee in my backyard by accident and immediately removed the stinger. The bottom of my foot got swollen, then the next day it started itching really bad. Why does my foot itch like that?

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    • Bailey

      It’s just a late reaction. Usually itching happens at least a week later, but in this case it’s not. So don’t worry I don’t think your ellergic. I retired from a nurse, and had this happen a couple of times.

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  21. cheyanne

    My 8 yr old son was stung by a bee in his finger 2 days ago and his finger is still swollen and the inching is severe is this normal and when do it stop. Or is this a sign to take him to urgent care

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  22. Jasmine

    Hello. I was stung by a bee 2days ago for the first time in my life. The bee stung me in the left region on my back, i didn’t notice the bee until I felt excruciating pain on my back. My boyfriend saw the bee in the water of his pool and immediately took out the stinger. The area where the bee stung me is near my shoulder blade. I’m having sudden back discomfort, is this related to the bee sting or a straining of muscles in the back?

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  23. Marlee

    I was stung by a bee for the first time on Tuesday it is now Saturday it started as a normal red welt itchy the normal symptoms for a bee sting now it is Saturday and it is purple. Please someone tell me if this is normal . -11 year old daughter

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  24. Tisha

    I was stung 4 times in the hand. Within 15 minutes I experienced tingling down in my foot. Should I be alarmed? Is this a sign of an allergy to bees?

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    • John

      I had a similar reaction. I was recently stung by a yellow jacket on the back of my neck. I have been stung many times in my life and never experienced a significant reaction. This time, within about 15 or 20 minutes I began feeling a burning and itching in my fingers and toes. Over the course of a couple of hours it spread throughout my hands and feet. I took aspirin and over the course of the day the symptoms subsided. The next day there was still some itching but for the most part I was fine. Never experienced anything like it before and until your post, couldn’t find anyone else who had the same reaction.

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      • Rajesh

        feeling the same stung by wasp on abdomen itching palms and feet. What should I do?

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  25. tonya

    i was stung by a wasp on inside of wrist had go ER 2 days later & get steriod shot & some other shot but all swelling & redness is still here 24 hours later, do i need go back to doctor

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  26. Judy Dolan

    I was stung by a yellow jacket two days ago. Yesterday I went to a clinic because the entire finger was red, swollen and there was a distinct red line going down the finger toward my wrist. They gave me a tetnus shot and antibiotic cream and a steroid cream. They told me if it got worse that I should go back.

    My question is that everything is the same except the area where the actual bee sting occured is now much redder, almost a purple color and I am itchy everywhere. Should I go back or wait another day?

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    • If the itching all over is new, I would go back. If the only change is the color of the sting site, I’d call and ask, but I bet they’d say come back for that, too. NOTE: I am not a doctor.

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    • Elizabeth

      Hey, I was just talking to a friend today about something like this. She was telling me that a bee had stung her in the hand and it made a red line going up her wrist. And her mom made a bowl of HOT WATER (as hot as you can stand it) and put a lot of salt in the water and had her stick her hand in it till she couldn’t handle anymore. It made her hand better. The red line went away. Idk try this, maybe it will help. Good luck.

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  27. cm

    Hi Dr. Greene
    My mom was stung by a bee 5 weeks ago. Her finger (the area where she was stung) swelled and rashes appeared on her skin. She is doubting that she had remove the stinger. Now, she is experiencing difficulty in breathing and as if there was something blocking in her airways. Is this an allergic reaction from the stung she got? and is it okay to take antihistamine just to stop breathlessness?

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    • I’m not a doctor, but if she’s having difficulty breathing, I’d take her to the doctor. Don’t mess with over the counter meds and wait to see what happens.

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  28. Ms Bobbye Wiley

    In the early 60’s..I know a long time ago!!….I was stung 2 or 3 times by honey bees..the last time one got in my hair and stung on the top of my head. As a result the swelling went all the way down my face and out my chin. At all times I went to emergency room in anaflayec shock, the last time on the head the doctor said “next time, don’t call me call the undertaker!!”
    As to my question…have not been stung since then (husband pushed me out of bed one time when he thought he heard a bee!) how long does the allergy last? Know this is lengthy…THANK YOU!!

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  29. Tamara Hahn

    I passed out as a passenger on my husbands harley, He kept the bike up & I ended up in the ditch. I know now that I had been stung by a yellow jacket 3.5 hrs prior in the neck. A year later was stung by another yellow jacket under my arm close to arm pit. I again passed out 4 hrs later. On both occasions, just before passing out, I felt a weird sensation going through my body, I felt very week & lathargic. Both sting areas the sting hole was quite large, it was hot, swollen, itched bad. The areas were really red and and size approx 6″ x 5″ area. These symptoms lasted over 7 months. It was horrible!!! I honestly have not felt right since all this happened. I received a 3rd sting a few months later, I had no passing out with this one however, but the area on my hip was swollen, hard, red, itched and huge!! It was there for 6 months also!!

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  30. Cindy Emerson

    About 6 weeks ago I was stung by a red wasp on the top of my foot. It was just a normal sting with pain, redness and swelling. I am now experiencing pain in that area. Could you tell me why this is happening?

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  31. shona

    Hello Dr. Green,

    My daughter was stung by a bee, in the lower neck area right under the right ear lob, three weeks ago while at school. She had some pain, which went away in a day or so. However, she developed a small lump in its place. It doesn’t hurt, but it protrudes. Is this normal?

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  32. terry knutson

    Dr Green,

    I was sitting outside when a bee drove straight into my chest at a very high rate of speed. This was a couple of years ago.

    It seems like the stinger may be in my chest and I now have a lump that is about 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 inches around and 1/2 inch protruding out.

    I have had a significant weight loss since then, could this be because of this?

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    • Hi Terry. That’s an unusual sting! Significant unexplained weight loss is unlikely to be caused by a bee sting – but should be looked into. It’s a great reason for a trip to the doctor.

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    • Joshua Friedman

      I am not a doctor but I am a beekeeper. That behavior does not sound like stinging behavior. If you know for a fact that it stung you then that’s one thing. However, bees “ramming” you typically suggests one of two things. 1) Warning bump- Italian bees, the primary bee you will encounter in the U.S., are very docile. They only sting when under immediate threat. If they are unsure of your intentions, they will often ram you as a hint to “go away!” This does not involve an actual sting, as that would kill the bee. 2) Italian bees are known for being extremely clumsy. I have them plow into me and nearly knock themselves unconscious all the time in the bee yard. When they sting you, you will know because they land on you and rapidly proceed to latch on and show you what they think of you. Once again, does not sound like a typical sting!

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  33. mary budzinski

    Last night I accidently stepped on a bee barefoot and it held on to my toe and stung my toe.Today I have pain in my lower right side where my kidney is located. Could this be a symptom from the bee sting. Thank Youl

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    • Good question, Mary. I doubt that a sting on the toe one day would be the cause of isolated pain over the kidney the next – but I admit I’m not sure. Maaybe a lymph node in that area could be involved if it is the same side as the toe.

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  34. Antonio Maldonado

    Please Help me,
    I was stung by over 50 bees about a week ago while cutting the grass. They stung my leggs, my back the back of my head and all over my hands and fingers and my dad chased them off when he wet me with the water hose and than i quickly took a showet to relieve the burning. Its been a week since the attack, and im still itching like crazy and my fingers are all swollen and hurt so much. Please Help me. Thanks

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  35. Yvonne

    Several years ago I laid on a sunbed not knowing there was a wasp nest under it. When I laid down I was stung all over the back of my head which became very swolen.
    Since them I have had 4 episodes of anaphylaxis. I have had lots of tests and they all came up negative. I had another attack yesterday and spent the night in hospital.
    Could these attacks be related to the wasp stings. My head does sometimes swell where I was stung

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  36. Ashlee

    Good day – my son was stung by a honey bee in Bermuda on Sunday March 8th and yesterday he had sweeling and redness about 2 inches around the sting site. he’s also come down with a cold. what should we do?

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  37. Mamadou Keita

    When I was 3 years old I was having a barbecue party at my stepmother’s house. There was a beehive and then it stung me and has been there for the last 5 years. I don’t know what happened and may be allergic reaction or something. I was wondering can you inform me on what can I do to decrease the swelling?

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    • Mamadou Keita

      Sorry correction I was 8 years old and now I’m 13.

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  38. Linda

    Dr. Greene, I was stung by a bee on the lower neck. I had never had a reaction to bee stings before. I had no external swelling just red at sting site. This time, my nose started running, my throat started hurting, my voice changed, feeling sleepy, felt like vomiting, had trouble walking straight. I went to ER, they said I had sever reaction. They kept me there until my voice was back to normal. Gave me medication sent me home after 6 hours.

    I have continued to feel a numbness throughout my whole body. Mead feels numb with pressure (my ears ring and my eyes feel strange), very week and shaky, my mouth and down my throat feels sore and swollen. It’s like I am floating in my body. I went to my dr. who said nothing and gave me medication. Could these symptoms still be from the bee sting?

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  39. Linda

    I was bitten by a gnat near my teardrop in September 2014, my eyelid swelling went down but the eyelid is 3 times puffy than the other eyelid. What should I do.

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  40. katie

    I got stung last summer on the bottom of my foot near my big toe, and sometimes whilst im walking it still hurts. What do i do?

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  41. Ladylisa

    I was stung by a gang of hornets at least ten to 13 stings in Sept 17th of 2013. I had a terrible reaction of welts at every bit as well as pain took medicine and after a few days they went away but since then I’ve been having outbreaks of hives of which I never had before unless I took a birth control shot called depomovera but that’s been over ten years. So my question is can I still be having issues from the attack in September?

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  42. SmartGirl

    I was stung on the bottom of the foot two weeks ago (second ever bee sting) and it seemed to heal up fine. This morning though, intense itching woke me out of a sound sleep & when I rubbed my foot to scratch it the burning pain returned. The itch was so intense I had to put some Benadryl cream on it, and when I did, I noticed that at the site of the sting there is a small hard lump and what appears to be part of the stinger still under my skin.

    I have two autoimmune diseases (MS & RA) so I’m wondering if I should get this looked at by my GP, or just wait it out as my body absorbs or pushes out the remaining bit of stinger. I tried to gently squeeze it out (like a splinter) but it is far too tender.

    Any advice?

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  43. Jessica Champagne

    Dr. Green- first thank you for your time. My three year old presents with a history of yellow jacket sting three (plus) weeks ago behind upper left ear. Redness and swelling occurred immediately afterward and decreased over the next day or so. It was a large localized reaction the size of my hand.
    Today I happened to be looking in her ear and noticed that there is still a small reddened spot that she has obviously been scratching (scab with plasma exudate) at the exact site of the bee sting. (I had taken a photo of the redness and swelling and this is in the exact same spot as the sting) She has been crabby and clingy for the past two weeks (but what 3 year old isn’t?) In the last two days I have noticed a red rash to the left corner of her mouth, approx 2 inches in diameter. No fever that I have noticed (possible low grade that was undetected) eating, drinking, seems a bit more tired than usual. All this being said: Is it normal to have dermatological effects from yellow jacket venom so late after the sting? (Her Aunt supposedly had an anaphylactic reaction to bees as a child) Do you think a visit to an allergist should be in order. Or should I just keep an eye on it. Thank you so much.
    Just checked her lymph nodes and the ones just under her jaw are palpable but not super swollen. The left side larger than the right.
    Jessica

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  44. Sitarra winchell

    I was stung by a bee on the 20th of this month and 2 days ago it started itching and had raised up again. It looks like a rash is forming around it and it feels like it is on fire do I need to seek medical attention?

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  45. Cynthia Newell Cliffe

    I was stung about 3 weekend ago in my upper arm. It swelled up right away and turned bright red. It was about 3 to 4in wide and raised about 1 1/2 in high. It was very painful and went away about a week later. I started getting an bad itching sensation and scratched at my arm and it has a scab over it or something because I looked and I had a hole where the bee stung me. Today my arm started hurting again. The swelling is back and feels warm to touch. I also started hurting in my shoulder and under my shoulder blade. Should I seek medical attention?

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  46. Gav Mc

    I was stung on the finger by a wasp on Saturday Afternoon. About 2-3 hours later I began to feel nauseous. Now almost 48 hours later I still feel nauseous but have no other symptoms. I went to ER after 24hrs and the doc took my blood pressure and temp but nothing else and said he believed the nausea was unrelated to the sting. After 48hours am I now in the clear from Anaphylaxis from the sting?

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  47. Priyank

    Hello Dr Greene. My 15 months daughter got stung by a bee one week back. I immediately removed the stinger and rubbed some raw onion. After that I applied some baking soda paste and took her to hospital. There she was given 2 injections Avil 0.2 ml diluted and Bydroust 90 mg. She was under observation for couple of hours and then we came back home. She generally did not show any signs of any other side effect or reaction but there is some redness and hardness around the area where the bee stung (pic attached). Is there anything to worry about? Should I consult my Dr again? Please help.

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  48. penny marshall

    Dear dr green

    I was stung by a red wasp 2 weeks ago the sting hurt and had fever and as the day progressed started to swell. I took 2 benadryl and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning the swelling was worse and had spread to my hand I went to dr and they gave me a prednisone shot. Now 2 weeks later I have low grade fever and feel really tired. Went back to dr today and they fo not think it is delayed reaction to venum. What are your thoughts ?

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    • Alan Greene

      Penny, many things can cause low grade fever and fatigue – but it is important to know that delayed reactions to wasp stings, though uncommon, can last for weeks.

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  49. Alan Greene

    NRR, what an ordeal for your son and for you! Toxic reactions to multiple stings can produce symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, vertigo, fainting, and fever. And it is possible to have symptoms for weeks after the stings – and that don’t start for days or weeks. One reaction, serum sickness, typically starts 7-10 days later or so.

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  50. Alan Greene

    Tammy, you are right that the fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea could be signs of a reaction to being stung several days before. I’m a fan of everyone with systemic symptoms from stings being evaluated by a physician – both for that episode and to be prepared for the next one.

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  51. Alan Greene

    Hi AV. What you describe is consistent with a delayed response to the sting – and a good reason to be seen by an allergist to be prepared for any future stings.

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  52. Alan Greene

    MJ, still having a hard red 4 days after a sting is not unusual. I’m a fan of reactions that keep getting worse at that stage being checked by a physician.

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