Treating Bee Stings

Bees have an important role in our environment, but their stings hurt & can be lethal. Treating bee stings varies by severity.


Dr. Greene, My son (along with several of his classmates) was recently stung by bees. The sting was on his foot, and the next morning, the entire foot was swollen. Is this serious? How do you treat bee stings? What insect repellents work the best at preventing them?

Dr. Greene's Answer

Bee stings have been a nuisance long enough to have appeared in prehistoric cave paintings in Spain. Bee stings are part of our collective memory and they are part of our individual memories as well. While many moments of childhood come and go, the surprise, the pain, and the tears etch bee stings into images that we can recall even in old age, when our short-term memory begins to fade.

Bees have a highly developed social culture. The many species of bees have an important role in our environment. Most species of bees are clearly beneficial to humans. They are also the only insects that make food consumed by humans. But their stings hurt… and can be lethal.

Typically, bees are not aggressive creatures. Their stingers are for defense, not attack. Honeybees die when they sting. Preventing stings is best for all concerned. Traditional insect repellents are of no use in preventing bee stings. What does work?

Effective prevention means not attracting bees and not frightening them if they are present. Prevention techniques are especially important in the fall, when most stings occur. It takes 2 million visits to flowers to make one pound of honey. In the autumn, as flowers disappear, bees search more widely for food and take more risks.

Today, I spent some time with a beekeeper who was standing inside a screened cage full of honeybees. The bees rested on his bare face and arms as he described how to avoid stings. Flowers attract bees by their fragrant aroma, their bright colors, and their sweet taste.

Tips to Avoid Bee Stings

  • Avoid fragrances, including hair spray, scented soaps, lotions, and oils. Bees usually approach children with a sweet scent.
  • Don’t wear brightly colored clothing, particularly floral patterns, i.e. don’t look like a flower patch. Bees also see in the ultraviolet range. If the pattern lights up under black light, it is particularly interesting to bees.
  • Be very careful with food. Cans of soda are notorious: Bees climb in unobserved, and are frightened into stinging when the child drinks. Something as small as a forgotten raspberry jam stain on a sweater can be a problem.

If a Bee Does Land, Take Steps to Avoid Frightening It

  • Hold still. Tell kids to pretend they’re statues. Rapid movement startles the bee and encourages stinging.
  • Try blowing gently on the bee. This can encourage it to move on while not startling it.
  • Wear shoes. Bees will of course be frightened if you step on or near them. Shoes don’t make them less frightened, but they do protect feet from frightened bees.
  • Wear long pants when you know you are going to be in an area that is likely to have bees in it, such as a field.
  • Wear a hat. Furry animals steal honey from bees. Bees are in a heightened state of readiness when they are close to hair or fur. They have been proven to have a higher threshold for stinging people with hats. The beekeeper today was wearing a pastel baseball cap.

The bee’s stinger is barbed. In the act of stinging, the stinger is torn from the bee, along with the venom-filled poison sac and attached muscles. The barbs continue to work the stinger deeper into the flesh for several minutes, while venom continues to be injected. This led to statements such as this, which appear in most books on pediatric advice: “The stinger should be removed with a scraping motion by using the rigid edge of a credit card or a dull butter knife. Never attempt to pull out the stinger using fingers or tweezers, since this will result in the injection of more venom.”

An excellent study published in the Lancet, August 1996, turns this advice on its ear. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, and Pennsylvania State University tested what really happened by measuring the size of the wheals raised on their own forearms by bee stings. After stings in the left arm, they left the stinger in for 0.5 seconds, 1, 2, 4, or 8 seconds and then scraped the stinger out with a credit card. On the right arm, the stinger was removed by pinching the stinger between the thumb and forefinger at the same time intervals. There was no difference in wheal size between the different methods of extraction. The wheals did get larger, though, with each second that the stinger remained.

Treating Bee Stings

  • Remove the stinger with all haste, in whatever manner is most convenient. If you see a little black dot in the wound, part of the stinger is still present.
  • Clean the area with soap and water.
  • Consider applying an antiperspirant to the site. An ingredient called aluminum chlorohydrate may reduce the effect of bee venom.
  • 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.
  • 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, larger than 3 inches in diameter, will often persist for up to a week. A physician should be consulted if the reaction continues to spread.
  • 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 people who are stung, and anaphylactic shock can follow as many as 0.8% of bee stings, only about 40 people in the United States are killed by bee stings each year, and only 1 to 2 of these are children.

About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

The nest looked like a medium oval baseball size. Hornet or bee. I am not knowledgeable. The sting felt like a stab. Pain, then itching. Kept me awake . Itching from the thumb up past the wrist. AND continued. Nothing seemed to help. Not even Hydrocortizone. Swelling. 12 hrs later, stilll 60% uncomfortable. Barely tolerable itch.

Very good article as it relates to honeybees . I was checking out things on google as I got a honeybee sting yesterday on my index finger and it is quite swollen today. I was manipulating some comb in my top bar hive which has about 40,000 bees in it and I accidentally pinched one that took offense on my finger. The honeybee is quite docile so I don’t garb up until late summer. Twenty minutes after the honeybee sting I was walking into a shed and a yellow jacket got me in the back of my neck as I walked past. They don’t have a barbed stingers so they don’t die after they sting and can hit multiple times.

Hi last night I felt an insect crawled on my neck so i touched it and accidentally killed it with my fingers. When I felt that its big I immediately threw it away from my fingers. And then I saw it was a bee and then my middle finger stings like its been cut or something. It was just a small bite like an ant bite kind of size. Then I just went to get an alcohol to clean it in case of infection or something. This morning I woke up and theres a small bump like pimples on the side of my middle finger. How can I treat this? Is this dangerous? I felt dizzy when I woke up i dont know if thats normal. And my head hurts a bit and my body feels like im about to have a fever.

I got stung by a bee on the left side of my lower ankle last week Monday 08/14/2017 and it is now 08/23/2017 and my skin is still bright red and tender to the touch and hurts. I have checked it to see if the stinger is still in my skin but it looks more like a scab now. Why do you think that it is still hurting and any suggestions on what I should do?

Hi I stepped on a bee last night and got stung on the base of foot. Didn’t have an allergic reaction, just a bit swollen around the area of the sting. I iced it and put a cream on, but it still hurts until now, the next morning.

I did get the large part of the stinger out with a tweezer, but I think there is a small black dot still — can’t get it out because it was deep and the skin is so thick there.

Is this pain normal? Because I can’t walk normally, cant put any weight on it.

And is it ok that part of the stinger might still be in there? What to do?

Thanks so much, appreciate the answer if any..

I stepped on a bee today and it’s been hurting for several hours. Stings so bad. The only thing that helps is ice. I didn’t see any stinger left on my foot, so I have no idea why it still hurts.

I saw a bee buzzing around my head so I swatted at it and the stinger (with bee attached) embedded into my right middle finger knuckle. I was able to fling the bee off and saw so signs of the stinger in my finger. It was the most intense pain I have EVER felt and I have given birth to children without an epidural. It was a red hot pain. My knuckle swelled and even today I cannot bend my finger fully and it stays completely stiff, still hurts like crazy. By the way this was over a YEAR AGO. Any thoughts anyone on what could have happened?

many bee stung. I got fever and now feel cold on my chest and my heart bits funny

I got stung on my little toe yesterday, this morning it was a little swollen, but now my entire foot is swollen up to an inch above my ankle. How can I get the swelling down and how long will it take


Thanks for writing in.

This sounds like a “large local reaction”. Dr. Greene says, “Large local reactions, larger than 3 inches in diameter, will often persist for up to a week. A physician should be consulted if the reaction continues to spread.”

Sorry for the bad news, but it sounds like it’s time to consult your doctor.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Got stung by a yellow jack Thursdays. Its 3 days later and my but is purple and black. Is this normal? Please help!


Was there a time period without reaction? Or is this one continuous reaction?

Note: I answer a lot of questions on, I am the co-founder of, Dr. Greene’s business partner and wife, but I am a not doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Hey yesterday I was at school and i was about to get onto the bus until i got stung on my pinky finger thingo and the next morning it was bigger and down the side of my hand felt a bit weird what do i do


Not all bee sting reactions are the same. Dr. Greene says, “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.”

This sounds like a large, local reaction. He has a list of treatments here. The treatment changes depending on how long it’s been since the bite, so it’s wise for you to read the whole article and determine what applies to you.

I hope that helps,
Co-founder & Executive Producer, Mom
Note: Not Dr. Greene, not a doctor. Keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My boyfriend got stung by a bee on the inside of his lip yesterday at work. He was drinking an energy drink not knowing that there was a bee inside & when he spit it out it stung him. His lip has swollen up 5x it’s size & he said it hurts & is really itchy. He put ice on it all night but this morning it has gotten worse. Should he see a Dr?


If the swelling hasn’t gone down by now, I would go to an Urgent Care Clinic or Minute Clinic. There can be delayed reactions and swelling in the mouth is not to be taken too lightly.

Good luck! @MsGreene
Co-founder & Executive Producer, Mom
Note: I answer a lot of questions on, I am the co-founder of, Dr. Greene’s business partner, but I am a not doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

I was stung on the top.of my finger two days ago it was a lil swollen and then the swelling went down yesterday. But today I woke up and my whole finger is swollen even up to my nuckles. My finger is also very hard and swollen and is turning red. I’ve iced it and took benadryl but it continues to itch and swell and continues to turn red, should I get seen by a Dr.

I was stung by a bee at the knuckle of my left thumb 4 weeks ago. My thumb was numb adter the sting!
I had taken antibiotics as well as steroids and Benadryl in the past 4 weeks prescribed by my doctor due to my allergic reaction of swelling, aches , and itch has come back twice after the sting!
I now still feel there is some hardened spot around the knuckle. How can I be sure the toxin will eventually go away and to stop the allergic reaction keep coming back?

My husband got stung on the forehead lastnight around 6pm, this morning around 4am hes been vomiting alot & has headaches + where he was stung is quite swollen & red. Could he be having an allergic reaction?


This sounds like a Toxic Reaction. Dr. Greene says, “[A toxic reaction] is a direct result of bee venom, and not an allergic reaction. Symptoms can include fever, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and pain. Toxic bee sting reactions are rarely serious, but do sometimes sensitize the child and herald future allergic reactions.”


Hi my dad got stung by 3 bees on his hand called avispas how long does it take to get off

Many (I do not know if all) vasp venoms break down in heat. So.. I usually put the stung part (after removing the stinger, and if it is possible to do so at the time) in as hot water that I can manage without getting burnt. And for as long as possible.

A bee stung the inside of my ear and the stinger is still in it. What do I do?


It’s important to get the stinger out. The sooner you can get it out the better.

You will likely need help. Use a magnifying glass (or the camera on your smart phone) to get an enlarged view of the area that has been stung. If there’s a black dot still present after you’ve removed the stinger, some of it is still in the skin. Use tweezers to get it all out.

Hope that helps.


Hi I was stung by 9bees or so yesterday and my whole body was covered in hives! I went to the ER they gave me benedryl and steroids! By the time I went to bed all the hives were gone. When I woke up this morning they continued to come back and as of 2 my whole body is covered again! I don’t know what I should do

Oh, no! Sounds like the meds have worn off. If you’re still having difficulty, call your doctor who may prescribe more.


Ok was riding on motorcycle got stung by bee or wasp .Hurt terribly got a swollen mark now today the area is itching and hurting and huge red spot. Put benedryl cream on it should I be concerned or will it take it course. I am 59 and have RSD auto immune disease.

Hey i stepped on a bee yesterday and the area on my toe has swelled up bad and my whole foot is swollen and i cant put any pressure and bombs are starting to grow on the the of my foot

My daughter was stung 4times yesterday and today her legs are all swollen ,red and itchy,she’s been very shaky the swelling is worse today than it was yesterday any suggestions? She’s been putting ice on it taking Benadryl

I am no docter so I Canot diagnose her but I know you should take her to the hospital right away.

I was stung 2 days ago, and there was no stinger. It was swollen earlier but has gone down but there is still redness and it itches. But, now it’s hard underneath the skin around it. Is this bad?

did you get a response

Have you gotten a response to this? I am having the same problem.

Hi Doc,

A bee was inside my old outside shoes and when I put my left foot in a bee stung me on the left foot on the side.

Now foot is very bright pink and swollen and hurts. Both the back and side are swollen a lot.

I have taken Benadryl as directed by my pharmacist. What can I do? It hurts a lot.

Hey doc.
I was bitten by 4 bees and swelling is keep on increasing and the worst problem is that I live in a remote area .
So please recommend me any easy treatment

In my experience the follow-ups of insect bites and wasp or bee stings like itching, aching and swelling is easily avoided with heat treatment in most situations.

Can I survive a bee sting over night without treatment

Hi Kaleb,

Different people have different sensitivity to bee stings. Some need immediate attention and medication. Others never need treatment.

If you have severe swelling, it’s wise to be checked immediately.


3days ago I got sting by a Bee and I did nothing about it and by now its swollen and painful what must I do and am 14 years in age

thankfully only 40 people in the United States are killed by bee stings each year, and only 1 to 2 of these are children.

“THANKFULLY”??? You probably should look at rewording this…. Definitely other things one should be thankful for…

“ABOUT” probably a better choice of words. What do you think?

Excellent point. Change made, though I think what Dr. Greene meant was thankfully it’s not a larger number. Still, your point is well taken.

I think I got stung by a wasp last night because there was a bee on the window seal and a bump on my arm and it really does sting I would always remember to take of any perfume before bed by having a shower or bath

I have a swollen foot and I can barely walk on it

I can’t walk because of the swelling on my foot its sad

Poor you

Dr Green you suck

So… get him over here to get rid of this damn stinger.

I got stung in my lip. It’s pretty swollen and hasn’t gone down. How much longer will it stay swollen?

i just got stung in the lip too. How long did it take?

I was stung yesterday on the tip of my nose. Didn’t think much of it at the time. When I woke up this morning my nose was red and swelled up. I hope it doesn’t last long.

That happened to me before too. You have to ice it a lot! The swelling should die down in a few hours. If it hurts apply a dap of mustard.

I was stung by a bee over 24 hours ago. Area is very red over large area around bee sting. Never been stung before. Stinger is not imbedded in skin but very sore and still itchy. Applying ice and cream. How long will symptoms last?

This message has nothing about how long your swelling stays up.

Long article didn’t say anything about what to do,for large swelling.Will look elsewhere

What if your swelling is worse the next day what do you do