Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

For ordinary bee stings that do not cause an allergic reaction, home treatment is enough. Multiple stings or an allergic reaction, on the other hand, can be a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Treatment for minor reactions

To sting, a bee jabs a barbed stinger into the skin. Removing the stinger and its attached venom sac right away will keep more venom from being released.

  • Remove the stinger as soon as you can, as it takes only seconds for all of the venom to enter your body. Get the stinger out any way you can, such as with your fingernails or a tweezer.
  • Wash the sting area with soap and water.
  • Apply cold compresses or ice to relieve pain and ease swelling.

Treatment for moderate reactions

The following steps may help ease the swelling and itching often associated with large local reactions:

  • Remove the stinger as soon as possible.
  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply cold compresses or ice.
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to ease redness, itching or swelling.
  • If itching or swelling is bothersome, take an oral antihistamine that contains diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton).
  • Avoid scratching the sting area. This will worsen itching and swelling and increase your risk of infection.

Emergency treatment for allergic reactions

During an anaphylactic attack, an emergency medical team may perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. You may be given medications including:

  • Epinephrine (adrenaline) to reduce your body's allergic response
  • Oxygen, to help you breathe
  • Intravenous (IV) antihistamines and cortisone to reduce inflammation of your air passages and improve breathing
  • A beta agonist (such as albuterol) to relieve breathing symptoms

Epinephrine autoinjector

If you're allergic to bee stings, your doctor is likely to prescribe an emergency epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Twinject). You'll need to have it with you at all times. An autoinjector is a combined syringe and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh. Always be sure to replace epinephrine by its expiration date.

Be sure you know how to use the autoinjector. Also, make sure the people closest to you know how to administer the drug — if they're with you in an anaphylactic emergency, they could save your life. Medical personnel called in to respond to a severe anaphylactic reaction also may give you an epinephrine injection or another medication.

Consider wearing an alert bracelet that identifies your allergy to bee or other insect stings.

Allergy shots

Bee and other insect stings are a common cause of anaphylaxis. If you've had a serious reaction to a bee sting, your doctor likely will refer you to an allergist for allergy testing and consideration of allergy shots (immunotherapy). These shots, generally given regularly for a few years, can reduce or eliminate your allergic response to bee venom.

Feb. 07, 2014

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