Treating Honeybee Stings

Honeybee stings happen. Being prepared with a quick treatment will reduce pain, itch and swelling.

But I’m allergic to honeybees!

This is something we hear all the time. There is allergic and then there’s ALLERGIC. Be sure to know the difference in a localized allergic reaction and an allergy to bee venom that causes a systemic involvement of your airway.

An allergic reaction will cause localized swelling, warmth and itching around the sting. This will last 2 or 3 days and cause relatively minor discomfort. The amount of swelling will vary from person to person, but can be treated with home remedies. 

A systemic allergic reaction is quite a different matter. This type of full body involvement may cause a person’s airway to swell and impede the ability to breathe. Anyone who has this type of reaction to a bee sting must receive immediate medical treatment. Home remedies are not for you. You likely already carry an Epi-pen (a portable means of injecting epinephrine in an emergency) and for use immediately after a sting. This is a serious medical emergency and should be treated in an emergency room even after the use of an Epi-pen.

Sting Kit

Home Remedies

Here’s what we do for the occasional bee sting. 

First, don’t panic. This will alarm the other bees and you may end up being stung more than once. Walk away from the hive and remove the stinger. Your goal is to scrape the stinger out against the direction of the sting. When the bee leaves her stinger in you, there is a small bulb of venom at the end of the stinger. Place the edge of a credit card (in a pinch you could use the edge of your hive tool) between the venom bulb and the insertion point of the stinger. Scrape toward the bulb end of the stinger with a firm flick of the card. This should remove the stinger from your skin and stop the flow of venom. It is beneficial to do this as quickly as possible after being stung.

After removing the stinger, apply an ice pack to the affected area. This will help reduce swelling and offer immediate relief. We also add a smear of honey to the affected area. Honey has antiseptic properties and seems to reduce the itch. You can take an antihistamine such as Benadryl if necessary.  

Remember honeybees will rarely sting while foraging away from the hive. They are focused on gathering pollen and nectar with no concern about much else. Foraging bees are not in a position to defend the hive or the queen. Unless aggravated, squeezed or stepped on, they are not likely to sting.

For more information about avoiding stings in the first place, check out this blog post on the Mother Earth News website: How To Not Get Stung

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