How to treat summer bee stings


Bees come with hot and humid weather. Bee stings can only follow. Image: carterse/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Most of the nation is experiencing record heat this summer. With the heat and elevated humidity come insects of all kinds. It naturally follows that, with more bees, come more bee stings. This is a serious situation for those with allergies. For the rest of us, they are just painful irritants. Treating them quickly, however, can alleviate much of the discomfort, without costly commercial remedies or emergency room visits.

Remove the stinger

The first thing to do in the case of a bee sting is to get away from the area where the bees are. When they sense they are in danger, bees leave a scent that calls other bees to their defense. Next, as quickly as possible, remove the stinger from the skin if there is one. Scrape it out with a credit card or finger nails, but do not squeeze. To do so could release more venom from the venom sac attached to the stinger.

If the offending insect is a hornet, yellow jacket or wasp, it can sting multiple times. It is especially important to get away from them immediately if stung. However, their stings are treated the same as for bees, except that there is no stinger to remove.

Treating minor reactions

Those not allergic to bee stings can use an icepack to reduce swelling, and take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve minor pain. Use a towel between the ice and the skin and only leave it in place for 20 minutes or less to prevent frostbite. Calamine lotion or an antihistamine containing Diphenhydramine, such as Benadryl, can be used to calm the itching.

For most people, that is all that is needed. However, in some cases, bee stings can be much more serious. For these, immediate medical attention is necessary.

Ten or more stings

If stung ten times or more, either from multiple bees or a single hornet, call 911 or get the victim to the emergence room immediately. The same is true if the sting occurred in the mouth, nose or throat. The swelling from these events can interfere with breathing, even if the victim is not allergic.

Allergic reactions

If it is unknown if the victim has an allergy to bee stings, look for common symptoms of a serious reaction known as anaphylaxis. These include itching, redness, hives and, most importantly, shortness of breath. An antihistamine containing Diphenhydramine can be used to slow the reaction, but it does not preclude medical attention. Do not to take chances. Call 911 immediately.

If the victim has a known allergy, he or she may carry a personal injector of epinephrine called an EpiPen. If there is one available, use it as quickly as possible. Even so, a follow-up medical examination is still a good idea.

Bee repellants

For bee sting prevention, there are many effective bug repellant strays available for relatively little money. However, caution must be used if applying them to children.

A North Carolina-based pediatrician, Dr. Laura Schrader, said:

“The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation for bug spray that’s safe for children is to use a spray that has … 10 percent DEET or less. Apply it only once a day, but don’t use bug spray on kids less than two months old.”

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