What You Need to Know About Bee and Insect Stings

Warmer weather brings an increased likelihood of bee, wasp and other insect stings. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to protect yourself, or to at least minimize the symptoms if you do get stung.

10 Steps to Avoiding Bee and Wasp Stings

One of the best ways to avoid wasp and bee stings is to avoid the areas where these insects congregate. Nests and hives can be found in a variety of areas, including in trees, under roof eaves, or on outdoor equipment such as hoses or ladders.

Watch for swarms of bees or other insects leaving or entering an area or opening. Never put your hands in areas you can’t see. Bees and wasps often nest underneath rocks or in crevices, for example. You should also be careful when using outdoor machinery or any equipment that produces sound vibrations. The vibrations from lawn mowers, weed eaters, chainsaws, leaf blowers, and other outdoor equipment can alarm bees, aggravating them to sting.

If you can’t entirely avoid the areas where insects congregate, the following precautions will at least make you a less attractive target:

  • Avoid scented toiletries such as soaps, deodorants, and perfumes, especially those with banana or citrus scents.
  • Cover up as much of your body as possible, wearing light colored clothing with smooth finishes. Avoid dark leather, or furry clothing, as these resemble a bee’s predators.
  • Do not leave discarded food where it will attract bees.
  • Stay away from flowering plants.
  • If attacked by a single bee, remain calm and don’t swat. Swatting will only aggravate the bee.
  • If you come across a colony of bees or wasps, do not disturb the nest. If the insects are in an area frequented by humans, alert the proper authorities, such as the local Parks Department, Forest Service, or other agency.
  • If you’re attacked by several bees or a swarm, run to get away from them. Bees release a chemical when they sting, which attracts other bees.
  • Do not jump into water to avoid bees. Certain types of bees will hover over the water, waiting to sting you once you surface.
  • If a bee or other stinging insect gets inside your vehicle, carefully pull over and stop, before opening the windows to allow the insect to escape.
  • If you have a history of allergic reactions to insect stings, you should keep an epinephrine auto injector (like Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, or EpiPen) with you and wear a medical identification bracelet stating your allergy.

Bee Sting and Insect Bite Treatment

First, get to a safe place. Run inside or to a shelter, if possible. If you can’t get away from stinging insects, pull your shirt up over your head to protect your face, and try to remain as still as possible. Swatting or flailing your arms at bees and wasps will only aggravate them further.

Once you’re in a safe place, there are steps you can take to minimize your reaction to an insect sting or stings. If possible, have someone stay with you in case you experience an allergic reaction. Wash the sting site with soap and water before carefully removing any stingers. Stingers will continue to release venom for up to one minute, unless they’re removed. You can use either a piece of gauze, wiped over the area, or scrape the stinger with your fingernail, a dull knife blade, or the edge of a credit card. Do not use tweezers or squeeze the stinger, as this can release additional venom.

After removing the stinger, apply ice to reduce swelling. You may also want to take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, to alleviate discomfort. Calamine lotion may help as well, as will drinking plenty of water. Do not scratch the area, as this may increase itching, swelling, and the risk of infection. It is normal for insect bite swelling to last for up to several days.

When to Seek Help for Insect and Bee Stings

Most people who are stung will experience only a local reaction. This may include pain, itching, redness, and swelling around the insect bite. Insect bite swelling can sometimes be severe, but this does not necessarily indicate an allergic reaction.

In an actual allergic reaction, the swelling will occur in parts of the body well away from the area of the sting. You may experience swelling in the neck when stung on your hand, for instance. If this happens, see a doctor as soon as possible. Also, if you have been stung more than 15 times, feel ill, or experience swelling in the mouth or throat, obstructing your respiratory tract, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Bee Stings: Is It an Allergic Reaction?

Other signs that you may be experiencing an allergic reaction and need treatment for an insect bite or bee sting include:

  • A rash or hives
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Severe headache and/or dizziness
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Swelling in areas away from the sting, particularly the throat, tongue, or neck
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Shock
  • Losing consciousness

These symptoms may happen immediately following a sting, or for up to 30 minutes afterward, and then continue for hours. A condition called anaphylaxis, a systemic reaction that may affect the inability to breathe, may occur within seconds or minutes of the initial sting. If a sting victim experiences anaphylaxis, they will require an epinephrine injection. For this reason, those with known allergic reactions to bee or insect stings should carry an epinephrine auto-injector with them whenever they’re outdoors. Epinephrine requires a doctor’s prescription.

5 Surprising Facts About Bees and Bee Stings

  • Honey bees live in colonies of up to 60,000 individuals and are highly beneficial to humans because they pollinate crops.
  • Since bees sting to defend the colony, a bee will rarely sting while away from the colony, unless provoked.
  • Younger bees have less venom, and therefore, tend to be less defensive.
  • Stinging is a honey bee’s last defense. After releasing its stinger, the bee will die.
  • Only one to two people per 1,000 are actually allergic or hypersensitive to bee stings.

Where to Find Care for Insect Bites and Bee Stings

If you require an insect bite treatment, experience a severe or allergic reaction to a wasp, hornet, or bee sting, or require a prescription for epinephrine, our physician-led medical centers are here to help. We’re open from 8 AM to 8 PM daily throughout Indian River, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties. Our state-of-the-art facilities provide a convenient alternative to the typical long wait times at a hospital ER, or for a doctor’s appointment.

Walk-ins are always welcome, and all major insurance plans are accepted. To save time, you can check in online at www.MDNow.com, or call 888-MDNow-911 before you arrive.