IInsect Bites/Bee Stings
Most insect bites and stings are not serious and will get better within a few hours or days.
But occasionally they can become infected, cause a severe allergic reactions or spread serious illnesses such as Lyme disease and malaria.
Pharmacist - M.B.A. (Public Health) D.I.C.
IInsect Bites/Bee Stings
Bugs that bite or sting include wasps, hornets…
- Bugs that bite or sting include wasps, hornets, bees, horseflies, ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, spiders and midges.
Symptoms of insect bites and stings
- Insect bites and stings will usually cause a red, swollen lump to develop on the skin. This may be painful and in some cases can be very itchy.
- The symptoms will normally improve within a few hours or days, although sometimes they can last a little longer.
- Some people have a mild allergic reaction and a larger area of skin around the bite or sting becomes swollen, red and painful. This should pass within a week.
- Occasionally, a severe allergic reaction can occur, causing symptoms such as breathing difficulties, dizziness and a swollen face or mouth. This requires immediate medical treatment.
For most people, an insect bite or bee sting is just a nuisance.
- You may experience temporary sharp pain, swelling, redness, warmth, and itching at the sting site, but no serious complications.
- If you’re allergic to bees, or you get stung multiple times, bee stings can be more problematic. They can even be life-threatening.
- When a honeybee stings you, its stinger is released into your skin. This ultimately kills the honeybee.
If there’s no sign of a generalized allergic reaction, follow these 3 steps
1. Remove the stinger with a dull-edged object
- Bee stings and wasp stings are relatively similar, with one big exception. After a sting, honeybees leave a barbed stinger behind (and the honeybee dies). Wasps, on the other hand, have a smooth stinger that can sting multiple times without becoming detached from the insect.
- Following a honeybee sting, the stinger should be removed as quickly as possible. In many cases, the bee also leaves behind the venom sack, which continues to pump venom as long as it stays intact. So the sooner you can remove it and the stinger, the sooner you can stop the flow of toxins.
- A blunt object such as a credit card or butter knife gently scraped across the affected area is the best way to get rid of the stinger. Avoid using tweezers or anything else that could puncture or squeeze the venom sack and make symptoms worse.
2. Apply a cool compress
- Once the stinger is out, a cool compress can help alleviate pain (just don’t dunk the whole area in ice). An antihistamine taken orally or applied as a cream can help alleviate itching and swelling.
3. Elevate the area
- Depending on the location of the sting, elevating the area can also reduce swelling.
- The level of swelling caused by a sting can often be startling. In fact, a sting on the hand can result in the hand swelling up to twice the normal size. This swelling, along with the area feeling warm and tender, can sometimes be confused for infection—also known as cellulitis. Individuals and parents should know it’s rare for infection to develop after a sting, especially within the first few days. The swelling caused by a local reaction may decrease within a few hours, but it can take a few days to fully resolve.
Keys to preventing stings
- The best way to avoid complications from a sting is to avoid being stung in the first place. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you know you or your child will be outside and around bees or wasps.
- Avoid wearing bright colors, scented perfume, or hair sprays.
- Remember bees and wasps are social creatures. They only sting humans to protect their hive. The old rule of thumb is true—if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.
- Bees and wasps are pretty slow fliers—most people can get away from them just by walking quickly.
Next time you or a child receives a nasty sting, look for signs of a generalized allergic reaction first. Signs of a generalized allergic reaction: Symptoms usually develop very quickly and may include:
- A feeling of uneasiness, tingling sensations, and dizziness.
- Generalized itching and hives
- Swelling of the lips and tongue
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing
- Collapse and loss of consciousness
Anyone who has any of these symptoms should go to their GP or emergency department immediately.
People who had a generalized allergic response in the past will very likely have one again after another sting. However, sometimes people who never had an allergic reaction on previous stings have a generalized allergic reaction to their next sting.
People who know they’re allergic should always have access to an epipen autinjector. Use the auto-injector at the first sign of an allergic reaction.
Patients and parents should note—a more severe local reaction (greater pain or more extreme swelling) is not an indicator of increased risk for a generalized reaction, nor is receiving multiple stings.
Traditional treatments for bee stings
Bee stings are traditionally treated with ice or cold compresses to help reduce pain and swelling.
Anti-inflammatories such as nurofen may also help. You can treat itching and redness with hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion.
If itching and swelling are severe, taking an oral antihistamine such as zirtek or puritan may bring relief.
To reduce your risk of infection, don’t scratch the sting site. Scratching can intensify itching, swelling, and redness.
If you’ve had anaphylactic shock after a bee sting in the past, you’ll need to carry an EpiPen with you at all times.
If you’re stung again, using the EpiPen may prevent a severe allergic reaction.
Treatment with Herbs and oils
These herbs have wound-healing properties and may help relieve symptoms of a bee sting:
- Aloe vera is known for soothing the skin and relieving pain. If you have an aloe vera plant, break off a leaf and squeeze the gel directly onto the affected area.
- Calendula cream is an antiseptic used to heal minor wounds and ease skin irritation. Apply the cream directly to the sting site and cover with a bandage.
- Lavender essential oil has anti-inflammatory abilities and can help relieve swelling. Dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil, such a coconut or olive oil. Dab a few drops of the mixture onto the sting site.
- Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and may ease bee sting pain. Mix with a carrier oil and apply a drop to the sting site.
- Witch hazel is a tried-and-true herbal remedy for insect bites and bee stings. It can help reduce inflammation, pain, and itching. Apply witch hazel directly to the bee sting as needed.
Home remedies for bee stings
Wash the sting site with soap and water. Icing the sting site is the most effective way to reduce venom absorption. It also can help reduce swelling.
- Honey may help with wound healing, pain, and itching.
- To treat bee stings with honey, apply a small amount to the affected area. Cover with a loose bandage and leave on for up to an hour.
- A paste made of baking soda and water can help neutralize bee venom to reduce pain, itching, and swelling.
- Apply a thick layer of baking soda paste to the affected area. Cover the paste with a bandage. Leave on for at least 15 minutes and re-apply as needed.
Apple cider vinegar
- Some people believe vinegar helps neutralize bee venom.
- Soak the sting site in a basin of diluted apple cider vinegar for at least 15 minutes. You can also soak a bandage or cloth in the vinegar and then apply it to the sting site.
- It’s unclear why toothpaste can help bee stings. Some people claim that alkaline toothpaste neutralizes acidic honeybee venom. If true, however, toothpaste won’t work on alkaline wasp venom.
- Either way, toothpaste is an inexpensive and easy home remedy to try. Simply dab a bit on the affected area.
Bee stings can be painful, whether you’re allergic to bees or not. If a bee stings you, try to remain calm. Chances are you’ll be just fine.
Bee allergies can occur at any time in your life, even if you’ve been stung before and not had an allergic reaction. It’s important to take note of your symptoms.
If you know you’ll be spending time outdoors, take these steps to reduce your risk of a bee sting:
- Don’t walk around barefoot outside.
- Leave beehives alone.
- Don’t wear sweet-smelling perfume, hair products, or body products.
- Don’t wear bright colors or clothes with flowery prints.
- Cover your food.
- Don’t drive with your windows down.
- Don’t drink from open soda cans.
- Stay away from uncovered garbage cans.