bee sting pain

How Much Do Bee Stings Hurt?

Bees are feared for one thing—their stinging. Bees use their stinger as a defense, whenever they or the hive is threatened. As the bees sting, they release a venom which can have extremely painful results. But, how much does a bee sting hurt?

How Bad Do Bee Stings Hurt?

How much a bee sting hurts depends greatly on the person being stung and their pain threshold. Some people will instantly feel significant pain, which could be similar to cramps or burning. Other people might not notice it until the area begins to swell.

Bee sting reactions can be categorized as one of three levels: mild, moderate, and severe reactions.

Mild Reaction

This may be surprising, but, many people who get stung by a bee will only have a mild reaction. The symptoms of a mild reaction include:

  • Instant pain followed by a sharp burning sensation in the sting site.
  • Minor swelling around the affected area.
  • A red welt.

Mild reactions are usually over with quickly. In most cases, the symptoms disappear within a few hours.

Moderate Reaction

With a moderate reaction, you may experience similar symptoms as the mild, but more extreme. You may also experience symptoms such as:

  • The same, instant, pain when you are stung.
  • Swelling, which enlarges within a few days and the whole area becomes painful.
  • Extreme redness around the area.

Moderate reactions usually take longer to resolve. In most cases, it will take five to 10 days. A moderate reaction doesn’t mean you’re going to have a severe allergic reaction next time.

We do, however, recommend that you consult your doctor or physician about treatment and prevention. This especially goes for people who seem to have a moderate to severe reaction each time.

Severe Reaction

A severe reaction to a bee sting is also referred to as anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening condition which requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include:

  • Severe skin reactions, such as hives, itching, with flushed or pale skin.
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue, followed by difficulty breathing.
  • Diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Weak, rapid pulse.
  • Dizziness and fainting.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Having a severe reaction to a bee sting means you’ll have a 30 to 60 percent chance of anaphylaxis the next time you are stung.

If this happens to you, it’s important to contact your doctor about prevention. This is especially important if you work close to bees and are more at risk of bee stings.

An allergy specialist might recommend immunotherapy, which is a series of allergy shots. This will prevent severe reactions in the future.

Bee Venom

When a bee stings, it injects a venom, which contains a mix of different proteins, including melittin. The venom affects the immune system and skin cells, which causes swelling and redness.

Melittin, in particular, stimulates the body’s pain receptors. It also destroys cells as it breaks the membrane (outer layer of the cell) apart.

Honeybee venom actually contains anticoagulation properties. Studies have shown that it has an effect on blood clots.

It’s not only the honeybee that stings. Other bees, such as bumblebees, can also sting. Bumblebee venom also contains melittin.

bumblebee stinger

Where they differ, however, is what happens after you’ve been stung.

Honeybees have a barbed stinger. As they sting, they can’t pull the stinger out and as they fly away, important body parts are also left behind, attached to the stinger. This means stinging is deadly for honeybees.

Bumblebees, on the other hand, have a smooth stinger. They can easily sting multiple times; however, they aren’t as likely to sting as honeybees.

What to Do If You’re Stung

If you have been stung, it’s crucial to remove the stinger as quickly as possible. When you do, make sure to scrape it off using your fingernails or another object. Pulling the stinger out using tweezers can squeeze more venom into your skin, prolonging the pain.

Washing the area with cold, soapy water can help to remove some of the venom. Applying something cold can also help to reduce the symptoms. If you’re experiencing more symptoms, taking an antihistamine should help.

It’s important that you keep an eye on the swelling. Some recommend that you draw a circle around the sting. This way you can easily spot if the swelling increases, in which case, medical attention is necessary.

Summary

Bee stings are painful, but just how much a bee sting hurts depends on the individual’s pain tolerance. Fortunately, most people will only experience a mild reaction that will leave them sore for a few hours. There are others who are less fortunate, where a bee sting triggers a severe allergic reaction. However, in general, bee stings don’t last for long.

Fast treatment is key. Remove the stinger if present, apply something cold, and perhaps take a pain reliever to ease the pain. Contact your doctor immediately if you have a severe reaction.

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