If one is stung, the wound can be treated in the following ways:
- Remove the stinger with all haste, in whatever manner is most convenient. I like scraping across the skin with a credit card to try to remove the stinger. If you see a little black dot in the wound, part of the stinger is still present.
- Apply a solution of one part meat tenderizer to 4 parts water. Papain, the enzyme in meat tenderizer, breaks down the protein in bee venom responsible for the pain and itching. Don’t leave this on for more than 30 minutes, or it can irritate the skin. If this isn’t available, you might try an antiperspirant. Aluminum chlorohydrate reduces the effect of bee venom, but to a lesser extent.
- Apply cold. Use ice or cool water for 10 to 30 minutes after the sting. This blunts the body’s allergic response.
- An antihistamine such as Benadryl, taken by mouth, can give some added relief, and help prevent the reaction from spreading.
- A shake lotion such as calamine can be helpful. A paste made of baking soda and water can have a similar effect.
- Topical hydrocortisone can also provide some symptomatic relief.
- A topical antibiotic ointment can also be used to help prevent infection.
- Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for systemic pain relief.
After a bee sting, different children will have different reactions:
- Bee stings cause immediate, painful red bumps.
- In most cases, the pain has largely disappeared within 2 hours, although swelling may not be apparent until the next day.
- Large local reactions at the site of the sting can start 12 to 36 hours after the initial sting and can persist for up to a week. A physician should be consulted if the reaction continues to spread or there is a systemic reaction.
- Systemic reactions such as hives, redness, or swelling elsewhere on the body, vomiting, dizziness, hoarseness, thickened speech, or difficulty breathing, should receive prompt medical care from a physician. Also, be sure to see a doctor if there were 10 or more stings, or if one of the stings was inside the nose or mouth, since swelling can interfere with breathing.
A child who has had a systemic reaction to a bee sting (which I can personally relate to) should follow special precautions set forth by his or her pediatrician. This will include carrying injectable epinephrine (which I do).
Although systemic reactions occur in about 3% of children who are stung, and anaphylactic shock can follow as many as 0.8% of bee stings, thankfully only 50 people in the United States are killed by bee stings each year, and only 1 to 2 of these are children. You may want to consider having your child wear a medical alert braclet if they have a significant allergy to bee stings.
Last reviewed: September 12, 2010