Learning how long symptoms should last will help you if you’re stung. You’ll know when there’s no reason to panic, and when to seek medical help. It will also make it easier for you to monitor your symptoms—and you should, regardless of allergies. Here’s a breakdown of how long bee stings last, what’s normal, and what’s not.
Everyone Is Different
The following timeline is just a general look at what bee stings look like and how long bee sting symptoms can last, but it’s not to say that you’ll experience it this way. Different people will have different reactions to bee venom, for better or worse.
There are a few things you can take into account, that might alter the duration (or severity) of your sting.
Women could be more susceptible to bee venom than men, but not in the way you might think. It’s been debunked that estrogen causes hypersensitivity to venom, but more research is needed in some areas for this.
For example, hormonal fluctuations (caused by menstruation, menopause, or even pregnancy) could impact how your body reacts to bee stings. Hormonal changes in men are far less likely (and much less significant).
I’m not saying that women are more at risk of severe stings, rather that women should pay extra attention to changes in their symptoms.
The older you are, the worse your symptoms could be. Studies have proven that adults are more likely to experience severe symptoms, and also more likely to be fatally stung. Evidence suggests that most children who are allergic to bee venom, outgrow their allergies later in life.
Likewise, if you weren’t allergic as a child, it doesn’t mean you’re totally immune and safe. You could develop an allergy to bee venom in your adulthood, and it could come out of the blue.
There is a debate on whether or not previous stings make you more susceptible or resistant to bee venom, but one thing is clear:
Never assume that you aren’t allergic because you very well could be. An allergic reaction to bee venom is considered an emergency, and of course, the sooner you get help, the better.
Number of Stings
It makes a significant difference if you’ve been stung by a swarm as opposed to one or two bees. Getting stung several times in one event means that you have an excess of venom that will spread faster and to more parts of your body.
This could dramatically change the duration of your symptoms, and should also be treated as an emergency. Multiple stings could bring on extreme symptoms, from anaphylactic shock to convulsions.
How you treat your sting will also make a difference. If you choose to soldier through mild symptoms without intervention, they’ll last longer than if you take painkillers or anti-inflammatories.
Conventional medication is also likelier to reduce symptoms than home remedies. If you don’t clean your sting, it could become infected, and symptoms could drag on longer than they should, or they could worsen.
How Quickly You Remove the Stingers
The longer stingers are left on your skin, the worse your reaction will be. Bee stingers continue to inject venom into you, even after the bee itself is long gone. Honeybees are the only ones who will leave their stingers behind, but this means that symptoms could be worse if you’re stung by them.
Removing the stingers from your skin as quickly as you can is the top priority if you get stung. This will prevent excess venom from injecting into your bloodstream. Your symptoms could be milder if you take care of the stingers promptly.
How Long Do Symptoms Last?
Bee sting symptoms are categorized in intensity as mild, moderate, and severe. In general, mild symptoms will last for a day at most, perhaps two. Moderate symptoms could last for a week. Severe symptoms could strike at any time, either immediately after being stung, or after days of moderate symptoms.
It’s for this reason that monitoring your symptoms is so important. You can only be sure that you’re not in any danger once the symptoms have subsided. So long as you’re still enduring them, there’s a chance that they could intensify.
A Bee Sting Timeline
Local symptoms will often appear immediately at the sting site. If you’re stung and experience a mild reaction, you can expect:
Mild and Moderate Symptoms
- An immediate and intense burning pain that lasts for several hours.
- Swelling—the duration of swelling largely depends on where you’ve been stung. Typically, swelling will subside within two days at most. If you’re stung on your face, you might stay swollen for up to a week.
- Discoloration (redness) around the sting site that usually lasts for about three days.
It’s also worth noting that once the initial pain subsides, itching typically follows immediately afterward. Try not to scratch it. You could make it burn or hurt or all over again.
The only differences between mild and moderate symptoms are the intensity and duration. If after a day or two you’re right as rain, you have nothing to worry about. If you experience moderate symptoms that don’t worsen and clear up within seven days, you’re also in the clear.
If your symptoms worsen, spread, or remain after a week’s time, you should see a doctor.
Again, it’s not to say that if your sting starts out as a mild one that you’ll be safe from extreme symptoms. They could sneak up on you. What’s more important than keeping track of time, is paying attention to the symptoms themselves.
Severe symptoms are life-threatening and should be attended to immediately. Your best bet would be to call emergency services. They’ll probably get to you faster than if you took yourself to the ER, and they can help you on the way to the hospital.
The easiest way to tell that you are having an allergic reaction is if you experience symptoms beyond the sting site. If pain, redness, itching or swelling spread to other parts of your body, it’s a telltale sign that you need immediate help. Even mild or moderate symptoms could worsen and become severe.
Other symptoms to look out for include:
- A rash or hives anywhere on your body
- Constricted, labored, or difficulty breathing
- Rapid changes in your pulse and blood pressure
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Trouble communicating, slurred speech, or confusion
These symptoms should be dealt with immediately, no matter how much time has gone by since you were stung. Still, anaphylaxis typically occurs within 2 hours of being stung, so this is when you should be most alert.
You should seek immediate care if you have been stung by more than 10 bees at a time, or five bees if it’s a child who has been stung.
When to See a Doctor
Even if it’s not an emergency scenario, you might want to consult your doctor if you’re experiencing extreme discomfort. Even if your symptoms are mild, there’s no harm in getting them checked out if it will make you feel better.
If at any point in your sting, you experience the following, you should call your doctor just to be safe:
- It’s been more than two days, but localized symptoms are growing or worsening
- The swelling continues to grow, has reached four or more inches, or has spread to any of your joints (if you’ve been stung near your eye and swelling occurs at the sting site, you might want to visit the doctor anyway)
- You develop any illness-like symptoms, for example, a fever, but are otherwise not experiencing anything severe
- Treatments don’t seem to help or seem to have made your symptoms worse
- You think your sting has become infected
Don’t be afraid to give your doctor or local pharmacist a call if you have concerns regarding your skin. It’s also important to trust your gut. If at any point you don’t feel okay, see your doctor as soon as you can.
It’s also a good idea to have others on standby, just in case your symptoms rapidly worsen, and you can’t help yourself.
Time is of the Essence
Bee stings are bothersome because they could be a short-lived inconvenience or ongoing agony. There’s no way to tell which symptoms you’ll experience, or how severe they will be unless you know you’re allergic. In general, mild and moderate symptoms will dissipate naturally within a week. Severe symptoms should be taken care of urgently.