What happens if there’s no one around to offer immediate help? On a less ominous note, perhaps the sting you have to treat is minor, and won’t take a support group to fix. You could be a parent, taking precautions, or a beekeeper, preparing for the inevitable. No matter the case, here’s how to effectively treat bee stings.
First and Foremost
If a bee stings you, the best thing you can do is take cover and prevent being swarmed like my friend. Not all bees will attack in a swarm, so you might not have to worry, but I say rather be safe than sorry and treat all bees as though they do.
The type of bee matters quite a bit here. Africanized honeybees are the biggest culprits here, as they’re the most likely to attack en masse. It’s not because they’re evil or have a lust for your blood. They’re just more likely to perceive innocent behavior as a threat. They’re not so much aggressive as they are defensive, but that’s still bad news for us.
Bee stings release pheromones, which alert nearby colonies of imminent threats. This pheromone is what calls the bees to war. Since they sense (and follow) the pheromone (which you will now be a beacon for), the bees are led straight to you. This is why it’s of vital importance that you (quite literally) run for cover.
I cannot stress this enough, but if you are ever stung by a bee, you have to get yourself to safety as quickly as you can. Some will say you should remove the sting first, but you shouldn’t spend too much on time this.
If you’re struggling to get the stinger out, or it’s somewhere you can’t see, focus on getting away. It will hurt more the longer you leave it in, but it’s a small price to pay to avoid being stung by thousands of bees.
How to Escape a Swarm
Never, ever, swat at bees. Tempting (or instinctive) as it may be, this is the quickest way to annoy them into aggression. The more you attack, the more they’ll defend, and the more trouble you will find yourself in.
If you can, take cover somewhere that the bees can’t get to. Indoors, with all doors and windows shut may be your best bet, or maybe running as fast as you can to your car. So long as you are shielded and the bees can’t get in, you should be fine.
Note, though, that diving into water won’t help you. The alarm pheromone won’t wash off that easily, and as soon as you emerge, you’ll have to face the bees again.
If you see no cover anywhere, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to run as fast and as far as you can. Bees will chase you up to half a mile, but it is still possible to escape them on foot.
Don’t Play Doctor
This article may be on how to treat bee stings yourself, but if you are severely allergic, please don’t even try. Get the stingers out, to prevent excessive venom from spreading, and seek immediate medical attention.
You might not know that you’re allergic, but bee stings can cause anaphylaxis. If you experience any of the following symptoms after a sting, get yourself to the ER:
- Constricted breathing or trouble swallowing
- Dizziness or nausea
- Redness, rash or hives
- Excessive or fast swelling around your eyes, mouth, or throat
Remove the Stinger Before You Treat the Sting
If you’re safe from a swarm and you’re not experiencing a severe reaction to the sting, you’ve got the all-clear to treat yourself. Before you attempt to remedy the sting, you should make sure that you don’t have still have the stinger(s) in your skin.
The longer a stinger stays in your skin, the more at risk you are of developing a serious allergy to bee stings (or having an immediate allergic reaction). It hurts more too.
There’s a scientific reason for this. Bee venom is made up of at least 50 percent melittin—an allergen that causes bursts in your blood, and expansion in your blood vessels. Bee venom also consists of phospholipase A2—a protein that destroys your cell membranes. It causes inflammation and pain.
The venom also contains histamine, and an array of chemicals that concentrate the pain-inducing power of these chemical components I have mentioned.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, the longer a bee stinger stays in your body, the more venom it releases. Ouch!
Remove the stinger as quickly as you can, to lessen your pain and reaction to it. If you can’t see a stinger, it doesn’t mean it’s under your skin. Honeybee stingers will lodge in your skin, but won’t be injected under it. Other bees can retract their stingers, and won’t leave anything behind.
How to Treat a Bee Sting
Once you are stinger-free, you take care of your sting until it heals. More often than not, stings are easily treatable, and won’t require a trip to the doctor or hospital to fix. They’ll hurt, but you can remedy them quickly, and probably with supplies you already have around the house.
Keep It Clean
Just as you would treat any other cut, knick, or scrape, you should disinfect the sting site. You don’t have to go out of your way to buy special sanitizers. Soap and water will do. Cleaning your sting means you won’t have to worry about it becoming infected.
Reduce the Swelling
Bee stings will swell, even if you’re not severely allergic. So long as the swelling is in the exact vicinity of the sting and nowhere else, you should be just fine. There are home remedies you can use to lessen it.
Before I tell you what those are, I must ask you not to scratch your sting. It’s easier said than done, I know, but scratching can make the swelling and pain worse. It also increases your risk of infection, and if you scratch hard enough, it could scar.
An old but reliable solution to swelling is to apply ice to the welt. You don’t even need an entire ice pack. One ice cube pressed against the sting will reduce the swelling, and could potentially numb the pain too. Don’t give yourself frostbite though. You can place a thin cloth or towel between your skin and the ice to be safe.
Calamine lotion can be used as an antiseptic and an anti-inflammatory, so if you have some go ahead and apply it to the sting. There’s also a slew of other home remedies that you can apply including:
It may seem ironic, but honey can lessen the symptoms of bee stings when applied to the affected area. It also works as a disinfectant. Raw honey is recommended over processed honey, but if the latter is all you have, give it a go.
The enzymes in honey will react to the sting and produce a small amount of hydrogen peroxide, which means that bacteria won’t be able to form or breed in your wound.
Apply honey to the sting, wrap a bandage over it, and let it do its work for about an hour. Feel free to repeat this process as and when needed.
This remedy is approved by Poison Control, and that says a lot. All you have to do is create a paste from baking soda and water and lather it onto the sting.
Keep in mind that you need baking soda for this, not baking powder.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar might stink to hell and back, but it neutralizes bee venom.
To get the most of it, you can soak a bandage in it and wrap it around the sting site. You can also dab some onto a cloth and hold it against your skin. Either way, let it sit for about 20 minutes and allow your skin to breathe before reapplying it.
Activated charcoal will draw venom out from the puncture site. Mix activated charcoal powder into water or oil to create a paste and apply it to the affected area.
Witch hazel has a reputation for being anti-inflammatory, especially when it comes to insect bites. You don’t have to do anything more than apply it to your skin.
No one knows why this works, but coating your sting in toothpaste is a sworn remedy. It’s no surprise since toothpaste features in almost every single old wivé’s tale in history. Although there isn’t much science to back this one up, it’s by the word of those with experience that it makes it onto this list.
There’s no harm in trying it. It might work for you.
This isn’t always possible, depending on the sting site, but keeping the affected area raised reduces inflammation too. It’s just gravity doing its job. This could be the easiest (and cheapest) solution to inflammation, but it might be exhausting.
Reducing the Pain
Not everyone is interested in using natural or home remedies. If you’re one of those people, the good news is that you’re welcome to use chemical or medicinal remedies. Just keep in mind that in the case of medication, you should always follow the instructions of the selected product.
Some people believe that an aspirin paste rubbed onto a sting can reduce pain and inflammation, but there is no scientific evidence to support this.
Hydrocortisone cream seems to be the staple in treating bee stings. It’s an antihistamine lotion, that will reduce the inflammation of the sting. It’s not the only one you can use though. If you have other antihistamine creams at hand, apply those.
Even if you don’t have cream, you can treat the actual puncture using one of the remedies above, and take an antihistamine pill to further take care of the sting. Take an antihistamine that contains either diphenhydramine (as found in Benadryl), or chlorpheniramine.
Sometimes all you need is modern medicine. If you don’t want to deal with the pain of a bee sting, take any over-the-counter painkiller you can get your hands on. Ibuprofen is a favorite, but any will do.
Bee Sting Emergency Kits
If you know you’re allergic to bees, you should stay prepared by having an emergency kit at hand, if it’s ever needed.
Investing in an epinephrine auto-injector (most commonly known by the brand, EpiPen) could save your life. Your doctor will prescribe one to you if it’s necessary, and you should carry it with you at all times.
Do yourself a favor and learn how to use one of these with your eyes closed and your hands behind your back. They’re not difficult to use or understand, but if time is of the essence, you don’t have to fumble around.
Autoinjectors are a syringe and needle that contain one dose of necessary, life-saving medications. You inject them into your thigh. Be absolutely sure to replace the dose once it’s used, and keep an eye on your autoinjector’s expiration date.
These are an interesting discovery. They’re compact kits that are designed to draw venom from your skin—even snake venom.
If you’ve ever used one of these, let me know. It seems that not many people are aware of them. They could come in handy, so they’re worth your consideration.
In Case of Emergency
If you know that you are allergic to bees, wear an alert bracelet. It’s a simple step that could save your life, especially if your reactions are severe. One of the symptoms of a severe reaction is loss of consciousness. If this happens, and you have an alert bracelet, someone could save your life.
Not everyone’s a fan of the doctor, but don’t let your stubbornness put your life in danger. Emergency medical attention won’t be fun, but it’s often a matter of life or death. If you have a severe bee allergy and, heaven forbid, you end up in the ER, there are few things you can expect.
Doctors or emergency personnel will most likely give you a dose of medication to halt the allergic reaction in its tracks. It’s likely that they’ll turn to an autoinjector to help you quickly and efficiently.
You’ll be put on oxygen if you’re having trouble breathing, or you might be given medication like a beta-agonist. You’ll probably also get an intravenous antihistamine and painkillers to reduce the inflammation.
You can also consider going for an allergy shot, or your doctor might recommend one. Think of them as you would the flu shot. You’ll get a series of injections over a few years. Over time, you’ll build resistance to bee venom, and your allergy will be less severe until it’s eliminated entirely.
Prevention is Better than Cure
Sometimes you might get a surprise attack from bees. When I was in second grade, my teacher left her soda unattended and got stung on her tongue when she took a sip of it; unaware that a bee had landed on it.
Remember the woman I mentioned at the start? She was on her way home, minding her own business when she mistook the first bee for a fly and attempted to swat it away from her face.
My point is that most of us don’t live on high alert for bees. A swarm is one thing, one little bee you don’t notice is another. It won’t always be possible to avoid or prevent stings, but there are still precautions you can take.
Avoid Sweet Smelling Fragrances
This includes perfumes, oils, deodorants, hair sprays, lotions, and soaps—you name it. These scents won’t incite bees to sting, but they might spark their curiosity. They could approach you to investigate if you’re a nice flower they can forage on.
If you’re not keen on inviting bees into your space, taking it easy with the perfume could help.
Wear Light Colored Clothing
Likewise, what you wear can deter bees as well. Dark colors tend to make bees more aggressive (or defensive), while bright colors could attract them. In line with the above tip, just do your best to not look like a flower. It could keep bees away from you.
White, or very pale colors, and clothing without intricate patterns is your best bet.
If you know you are heading into bee territory, cover up as best you can. The thicker your clothes, the more protection you will have (but in summer this isn’t a great idea). Bees are wary of fur and hair, so cover your head if you can.
Mind Your Food
My second-grade teacher learned this the hard way. If you’re outdoors, say on a picnic or at a barbecue, check your food before you eat it. Some bees (like honeybees) have a tendency to investigate human food, and there’s a good chance they’re hanging on to your meal.
Sweet foods aren’t the only ones you should take precautions with, but they are more likely to attract bees.
If you’ve spilled food on your clothes, this can also attract bees to you. Keep that in mind.
If there are bees around and they approach you, keep as still as you possibly can. Sudden movements could be perceived as a threat. Chances are that the bee will move along by its own volition, without attempting to sting you.
The same applies if one lands you. Don’t try to swat it or shake it off. Just stay calm, and wait for it to leave. If you’re really uncomfortable, and the bee has decided it likes you and wants to stay, try to gently blow it away.
If you’re a beekeeper, you’ll have to accept that at some point in time, no matter how much you love them, your bees will sting you. It’s inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions.
You can use the above methods, of course, but you also have a range of equipment accessible to you that will prevent stinging too.
The beekeeper suit is a necessity. It’s designed specifically to protect you, and keep bees as calm as possible while you deal with them.
Bee smokers are another great invention that will change your beekeeping experience for the better. It keeps bees docile by masking their pheromones. It also keeps them in their hives, as they fear fire and try to grab what’s important in case they have to escape.
With time, you’ll learn how to behave around your bees. Once you’re fully accustomed to them, you’ll also be at lesser risk of getting stung. Many people only get stung because they unintentionally aggravate bees and force them to defend themselves. You’ll learn how to handle them.
There is a chance that you’ll also get used to being stung, but the reward of beekeeping is worth the pain.
Bee stings are relatively easy to deal with if you are not allergic to them. There are many home remedies you can use to disinfect them, and also to reduce pain and inflammation. What’s more important is that you keep yourself safe from more stings, and remove the stinger as fast as you can.
Take the necessary precautions to prevent stings when possible. They’ll save you a lot of pain and trouble. Why attend to bee stings if you can avoid them instead?