Types of Bee Sting Reactions and How to Act Fast

August 15, 2013
by Michael Barber
Types of Bee Sting Reactions and How to Act Fast

Any person can get stung by a hornet, wasp, yellow jacket or honey bee and approximately two million Americans are allergic to these insect stings. Because the initial sting can range from a pricking feeling to moderate or severe pain, how can you tell if the reaction is an allergic one?

1. Mild Reactions

Many of us will only experience a mild reaction to bee strings where the bite site becomes red, itchy and swollen. The use of antihistamines and hydrocortisone cream usually relieves these symptoms and a cool ice pack will help with swelling. However, there are more severe reactions that may require a trip to an urgent care center.

2. Allergic Reactions

If a person is allergic to bees, wasps or hornets, and they are stung, it is possible the individual will go into anaphylactic shock and require immediate family medical care. According to WebMD, some of the symptoms to watch for that can lead to anaphylactic shock include:

  • Trouble breathing and/or swallowing
  • Immediate swelling around the eyes, tongue, lips or throat
  • Severe itching
  • Wheezing or becoming hoarse
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • A rash or hives
  • Stomach cramps or nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Total loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or panic

3. Treating Minor Stings

For most of us, it's pretty easy to treat minor stings. Steps include:

  • Removal of the stinger with tweezers or a fingernail
  • Washing the area with water and soap
  • Cold compresses on the affected area

If a person is stung repeatedly and do not suffer any of the severe reaction signs, the above steps should be completed. However, additional treatment includes:

  • Hydrocortisone cream applied directly on the area
  • Antihistamines that contain diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheniramine (Chor-Trimeton).
  • Avoid the urge to scratch the affected area as this may cause an infection. Calamine lotion is helpful to alleviate itching urges.

4. Treating Severe Allergic Reactions

If a person has been stung by a bee and knows they are allergic, family care doctors can prescribe EpiPens that contain epinephrine to prevent an attack from becoming severe.

The Boston Children's Medical Hospital says about three percent of children are allergic to bee stings and if a severe reaction occurs, do seek out a pediatric urgent care center even if you have utilized epinephrine. Keep in mind epinephrine only reduces the reaction, and you may need further care.

If you seek urgent care, treatment includes:

  • The use of oxygen to help the patient breathe
  • Additional epinephrine if needed
  • CPR if the individual stops breathing or the heart isn't beating
  • Antihistamines and cortisone via IV delivery
  • A beta agonist or breathing treatment that contains albuterol

It's also important to note when it's time to see a doctor even if initially, the area doesn't swell. See a doctor if:

  • Redness or swelling doesn't decrease within three days
  • If you have asthma or another type of breathing problem
  • You're stung in multiple places or fear it was an Africanized bee sting
  • You have had past bee sting symptoms that caused even a small reaction

Prevention is also a great way to avoid being stung. Before engaging in outdoor activities or allowing your children to play outside, check the surrounding area for bee or wasp nests and call an exterminator to help remove these nests.