Many of us have been stung by a wasp or a bee sometimes in our life. The pain and itchy swelling can trouble you for a few days. Some people can even develop an allergic reaction to bee stings. While such people may need medical attention, in most cases, bee stings can easily be treated at home. In this article, you will learn how to identify and treat bee stings.
What does a bee sting look like?
A bee sting looks like a tiny black dot in the middle of a red, swollen area. If the stinger has been lodged the skin for a longer time, it may be more painful. A bee’s sting contains a sharp barb and a venom sac. The poison from this sac is pumped into the body for several minutes after the sting. It is the allergy to this venom that causes the allergic reaction. It is crucial to remove the stinger of the honeybee from the skin as soon as possible to prevent further irritation.
Honeybees have special hooks on their stings that keep it in the skin after the person has been stung. The stinger gets torn from the body of the honeybee as it tries to fly away, and the bee dies. Many wasps and other bees can sting more than once as they can pull out their stinger without injuring themselves.
Symptoms of a bee sting
Bee stings can cause four types of reactions. These include –
1. Local reaction
The symptoms of a local reaction include pain, itching, swelling, warmth, and redness at the site of the sting. These symptoms start immediately after the sting and can last for a few hours. In some cases, the swelling and itching can last up to a week and may be accompanied by nausea and tiredness. This is not an allergic reaction.
2. Systemic allergic reaction
Only one or two out of a 1000 people develop a systemic allergic reaction to bee stings. These kinds of reactions occur in people who have developed an antibody called IgE antibody against the venom due to a previous sting.
The symptoms of a systemic allergic reaction include hives, flushing of the skin, and difficulty in breathing. Some people may develop anaphylaxis, which leads to low blood pressure, circulatory disturbances, breathing difficulty, and cardiorespiratory arrest.
3. Toxic reactions
This reaction occurs when there are multiple stings which release a large amount of toxins in the body. The symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, fainting, and convulsions. Hives and rashes are less common in such cases. People that have toxic reactions may develop antibodies to the venom, which may lead to anaphylactic reactions to stings.
4. Delayed reactions
These reactions are rare and constitute less than 0.3 % of all bee stings. Delayed reactions can occur days and even weeks after the sting. The symptoms may include inflammation of the brain, the nerves, blood vessels, or kidneys. Serum sickness occurs a week to 10 days after the sting and can cause itching, fever, rash, joint pain, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.
Treating bee stings
For allergic, toxic, and delayed reactions, you must you should seek medical help immediately. Bee stings that don’t cause allergic reactions can be easily treated at home. To remove the stinger from the body, use a credit card or a fingernail to scrape it off with a sideways motion.
Quick removal of the stinger can reduce the amount of the venom injected. Once the stinger is out, clean the area with soap and water. Apply soothing creams or antihistamines to ease itching.
If you know that the person who has been stung can develop an allergic reaction, apply a compression bandage to the arm or the leg. Encourage the patient not to move too much and seek medical help. The patient may need an Epipen to overcome the reaction.
Home remedies for bee stings
After you have removed the stinger, you can use any of the following home remedies to reduce swelling and itching of the sting.
A cold compress is a great way to reduce the itching and inflammation of a bee sting. The cold temperature helps to draw the blood to the sting and helps to heal. To treat the sting, take an ice cube or ice pack and place it on the affected area for around 20 minutes. Always use a cloth protect skin from ice. Direct contact with skin can damage the skin.
2. Baking soda
The alkaline properties of baking soda can neutralize bee venom and reduce the swelling and irritation. Make a thick paste of water and baking soda and apply it to the sting. Cover it with a bandage and leave it on for 15 minutes. Reapply the paste if needed.
Honey contains several compounds that can lower inflammation, pain, and itching. Its antibacterial properties can prevent infections and speed up healing. Honey is used for antiseptic wound dressing because of the antibacterial activity of hydrogen peroxide produced in honey by the enzyme glucose oxidase (1).
Apply honey directly on the affected area and leave on for up to an hour. Do this indoors so that the smell of honey does not attract more bees.
4. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar helps to neutralize bee venom and reduce the pain and itching associated with it. Soak the sting site in a basin filled with ACV for 15 minutes. You can also soak a bandage in apple cider vinegar and apply it on the sting.
Alkaline toothpaste can neutralize the acidic bee venom. Apply a bit of the toothpaste on the sting. The tingling of the paste reduces itching satisfies your urge to scratch. Make sure the toothpaste you use is a paste and not a gel.
6. Meat tenderizer
Meat tenderizer contains papain, an enzyme which helps to break down the protein that causes itching and swelling. Mix one part of meat tenderizer with four parts water and apply on the sting site. Leave it on for 30 minutes.
7. Activated charcoal
Activated charcoal draws out the venom from the sting site and calms inflammation. Make a paste with charcoal and water and apply it on the sting. Cover the sting with a cloth and leave it on till the swelling subsides.
8. Aloe vera
Aloe vera gel provides anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It can naturally soothe and moisturize the skin. Spread some gel on the sting site helps to reduce the swelling and prevents infections.
The anti-inflammatory properties of basil help to reduce the swelling and irritation of the bee sting. Take a five to 10 basil leaves and crush them into a paste. Apply this paste to the area and leave it on for 30 minutes.
10. Essential oils
Several essential oils have natural antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties. They help to reduce swelling, ease the pain and itching associated with bee stings. You can use the following oils to ease the symptoms of bee stings –
Mix these essential oils with any carrier oil like olive oil or coconut before you apply them on the sting.
When do you need medical help?
While most cases of bee stings can be handled at home through home remedies, you may need medical help in some cases.
- If you have multiple see stings.
- If you have been stung in the eye or near the eye area
- If you develop symptoms of infection like pus, fever, increased pain, and redness
- If your symptoms worsen after 24 hours
- If the victim is suffering from a medical condition
Ways to prevent bee stings
Bees are most active on bright sunny days. They are attracted to bright colors and sweet scents. You can take the following preventive steps to avoid getting stung –
- Do not wear bright colors, especially floral patterns that look like a flower patch.
- Avoid fragrances, including scented lotions, oils, and soaps. Bees are attracted to sweet scents.
- Be careful with your food. Bees can climb into soda cans and can sting when you drink from them.
- Do not walk barefoot while outdoors.
- Be careful around blooming flowers and fruit trees.
- Keep garbage away from your outdoor activity area.
- If you find a bee near you stay still and avoid swatting it. Rapid movement can startle the bee and encourage stinging.
Bee stings can produce local or allergic reactions. Pain, redness, itching, and swelling are some of the most common responses to bee stings. Severe reaction to bee stings known as anaphylactic reactions can be life-threatening. Local reaction to bee stings can be treated through home remedies.
Ice, baking soda, honey, apple cider vinegar, activated charcoal, toothpaste, meat tenderizer, aloe vera, basil, and essential oils can effectively reduce swelling and pain associated with bee stings. You can also avoid bright colored clothes and perfumes to prevent bee stings. However, if you have multiple stings, sting near the eyes, infection in the sting area, you must consult with a doctor immediately.