Bee or Yellow Jacket Sting

Bee or Yellow Jacket Sting

Is this your symptom?

  • Stung by a honeybee, bumblebee, hornet, wasp, or yellow jacket
  • The main symptoms are pain, swelling, itching, or mild redness at the sting site

Some Basics...

  • Over 95% of stings are from honeybees or yellow jackets.
  • In most cases, these stings only cause a minor reaction at the sting site.
  • A severe reaction can happen to people who have an allergy to stings. A severe reaction is a medical emergency.
  • A tetanus shot is not needed after a sting.

Symptoms

The stinger injects venom into the skin. The venom causes all of the bee sting symptoms.

  • Pain: There may be severe pain or burning at the sting site for 1-2 hours.
  • Swelling: The bee sting may swell for 24 hours after the sting. Sometimes the swelling is mild. Other times, it can be more severe. It depends on the person and what part of the body was stung. A bee sting near the eye can cause lots of swelling of the eyelids. This looks bad but it is not serious.
  • Itching: As the pain goes away, the sting feels itchy.
  • Redness: A bee sting often has a red or pink color. Skin redness may be hard to see in people with darker skin color.
  • What to Expect: The redness can last 3 days and the swelling 7 days.

Does the Stinger Need to be Removed?

  • The stingers on honeybees come off and can get stuck in skin. This is the reason a honeybee can only sting one time. The bee will die when its stinger comes off. If there is a stinger in the skin, it should be removed.
  • It is better to get the stinger out quickly. There are a few ways to remove the stinger. Scratching it out with a fingernail is quick and easy. A person can also use the edge of a credit card.
  • The stingers on wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets do not come off. They can sting many times.

What is Anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is the medical term for a life-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling faint or passing out
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Hives
  • Wheezing
  • Cough

It can begin within seconds of the sting. This nearly always starts within 20 minutes. It is very rare for anaphylaxis to start more than 2 hours after a sting.

People who have had severe reactions to stings should have an anaphylaxis kit. They should keep it nearby if there is any chance of a sting. A doctor has to write a prescription for these kits. Examples are EpiPen and Twinject.

How Can Stings be Prevented?

Here are some outdoor tips for preventing stings.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and shoes when outdoors.
  • Avoid using perfumes and hair sprays. These attract insects.
  • Wear dark or drab colored clothes, not bright colors.
  • Take special care when eating or making food outdoors. Odors can attract insects like yellow jackets.

When to Call for Bee or Yellow Jacket Sting

Call 911 Now

  • Passed out (fainted)
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Hoarseness, cough, or tightness in the throat or chest
  • Swollen tongue or trouble swallowing
  • Past life-threatening reaction to sting and it has been less than 2 hours since sting
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Sting inside the mouth
  • Stomach pain or vomiting
  • Redness and sting area is very tender to touch, and have a fever
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Sting area is red or very tender to touch and this started over 24 hours after the sting
  • Sting area is red or very tender to touch and it is getting larger over 48 hours after the sting
  • Swelling is huge (larger than 4 inches or 10 cm or whole hand is swollen)
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Normal reaction to bee, wasp, or yellow jacket sting

Care Advice

Treatment of Stings

  1. What You Should Know:
    • In most cases, bee stings only cause a minor reaction at the sting site.
    • You can treat minor sting reactions at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Try to Remove the Stinger:
    • The stinger looks like a tiny black dot in the sting.
    • There are lots of ways to remove a stinger.
    • Use a fingernail, credit card edge, or knife-edge to scrape it off. If the stinger is below the skin surface, leave it alone. It will be shed with normal skin healing.
    • In many cases there will be no stinger to remove. Only honeybees leave their stingers. Wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets do not.
  3. Cold Pack:
    • For pain or swelling, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth.
    • Put it on the bee sting for 10-20 minutes.
    • You may repeat this as needed.
  4. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  5. Hydrocortisone Cream for Itching:
    • Rub the hydrocortisone cream on the sting 4 times a day. This can help with the itching. Use the cream until the itch is mild.
    • Sold over-the-counter (OTC) in the United States as 0.5% and 1% cream.
    • Sold OTC in Canada as 0.5% cream.
  6. Antihistamine Medicine for Severe Itching:
    • You can take one of the following drugs for severe itching: diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), or loratadine (Claritin, Alavert).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your itching feel better.
    • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may make you feel drowsy. Loratadine and cetirizine do not cause you to feel as sleepy. They are also long-acting so they last 24 hours.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  7. What to Expect:
    • Pain and Itching: Severe pain or burning near the sting lasts 1-2 hours. After 2 hours it should become less painful. After the pain goes away, the sting often starts to feel itchy.
    • Redness and Swelling: These may increase for 24 hours after the sting. Redness at the sting site is normal. It doesn't mean that it is infected. The redness can last 3 days and the swelling 7 days.
    • Stings rarely get infected.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Swelling becomes huge
    • Sting begins to look infected
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Prevention of Stings

  1. What You Should Know:
    • There are things you can do to avoid getting stung.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Outdoor Tips:
    • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and shoes when you are outdoors.
    • Avoid using perfumes and hair sprays. These attract insects.
    • Wear dark or drab colored clothes, not bright colors.
    • Take special care when eating or preparing food outdoors. Odors can attract insects like yellow jackets.

Tetanus Shots and Stings

  1. What You Should Know:
    • You cannot get tetanus from a bee sting or other insect sting.
    • You do not need a tetanus shot after a sting.
  2. Routine Tetanus Booster: If it has been more than 10 years since your last tetanus shot, you need a booster shot. Make an appointment to see your doctor.

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 10/18/2017 1:25:57 AM
Last Updated: 5/17/2017 5:42:31 PM

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Bee Sting of Upper Arm

This photo shows the typical localized reaction to a bee sting. There is mild redness in an oval 4 inches (10 cm) wide of the left upper arm.

Bee Sting of Left Hand

Moderate swelling of left hand from a bee sting that occurred the day before.

Wasp
First Aid - Shock - Adult or Teen
  • Lie down with the feet elevated (Reason: counteract shock).

Note: In this illustration the individual in shock is laying down and his feet have been placed up on a stack of blankets.

First Aid - Removing a Stinger

The stinger looks like as a tiny black dot in the center of the sting. There are several different methods of removal. Removing the stinger quickly is more important than the type of removal used.

  • You can scrape it out with a credit card or finger nail.
  • You can also use adhesive tape.
  • If only a small fragment remains, don't worry about it. It will shed with the skin.

Special Notes:

  • In many cases no stinger will be present.
  • Only bees leave their stingers. Wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets do not.
Honeybee Collecting Pollen
Paper Wasp

A paper wasp (Polistes dominulus) in its nest.

Hornet

Bald-faced "hornet" (Dolichovespula maculata).