Everyone loves the honey, but who loves the sting? Getting stung is never a pleasant experience, but for some, it’s an outright nightmare, especially those who are allergic to bees. (1)
Getting rid of bees around you or keeping your distance from them may not always be an option. However, knowing more about bee stings may help you better cope with the situation and treat the bee sting quickly.
Causes of Bee Stings
- Bees generally sting as a last resort to defend themselves, their hive or their colony from a threat.
- Honey bees have a barbed stinger with an attached venom sac. The venom is acidic in nature and contains proteins that have a direct reaction on skin cells and the immune system.
- Honey bees are the one variety that actually dies after stinging their victim. When the bee pulls free after stinging, the stinger and the venom sac along with the bee’s stomach contents are pulled loose, which kills the bee within minutes.
- The stinger is often left embedded in the skin and appears like a tiny black dot at the site of the sting. The venom sac continues to pump venom into the victim for 45 to 60 seconds through the stinger lodged in the skin.
Symptoms of Bee Stings
The symptoms of bee stings vary from mild to severe. (2) The latter happens if the person has a severe bee allergy or has suffered multiple bee stings.
- The victim will experience a sudden sharp burning pain at the site of the sting, and the stung area will welt up. The surrounding area may also swell. It is considered a mild reaction if the symptoms go away after a few hours.
- In a moderate reaction, the redness and swelling around the site of the sting may increase over the next couple of days. The symptoms remain for up to 10 days.
- A severe reaction may further include difficulty in breathing, swelling in throat or tongue and severe skin reactions like hives, itching, flushed or pale skin. The person may also experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and a weak and rapid pulse.
- Those who are allergic to bees have a 30 to 60 percent chance of going into anaphylactic shock.
- Victims of multiple bee stings may also suffer from vertigo and convulsions.
Preventing Bee Stings
- Keeping calm can mean the difference between a single or multiple bee stings. Waving your hands about won’t deter the bees, but rather it will provoke the surrounding bees to attack you.
- If a lone bee has found its way into your abode, try to let it out if you can do so safely. Otherwise, you may get rid of the bee with a soap-based solution.
- If bees are establishing a colony near your house or in your yard, you can contact your local beekeeper to relocate the bees.
Home Treatment for Bee Stings
- Mild to moderate reactions to bee stings can be easily treated at home. Timely treatment often reduces the intensity of the symptoms.
- Removing the stinger immediately and icing the site of the sting can reduce the severity of the reaction.
- If you’re having a severe reaction, have multiple bee stings or were attacked by a swarm, go to the hospital emergency room immediately.
Despite the above factors, bees pose relatively less risk than other insects like yellow jackets or other wasps. That’s because honey bees die after stinging and the reaction is usually not life-threatening, (3) whereas wasps can sting repeatedly and many household spiders are deadly.
Here are 10 natural home remedies to ease the reaction and symptoms of a bee sting. Start with the first one as soon as you’re stung, then take your pick from the rest to treat the bee sting quickly.
Method 1: Remove Stinger and Apply Ice
Removing the stinger and applying a cold compress on the site of the sting is perhaps the most important step in dealing with bee stings. (4) Consider this the primary step that you need to take before you administer other remedies.
Removing the stinger immediately is important to reduce the intensity of the symptoms. The best way to remove the stinger is to scrape at it with a flat surface like a plastic card, a coin or a blunt knife.
You can also use your fingernail, provided that you scrape the stinger out instead of pulling it. The trouble with pulling the stinger out with tweezers is that it pushes the remaining venom from the venom sac into the skin.
Following it up with an effective cold compress constricts the blood vessels in the area. This prevents the venom from spreading and keeps the area from swelling. Sometimes the stinger falls out on its own. If that’s the case, you just need to ice the area. Here’s how you should go about it:
- Scrape across the bee sting with a credit card or any other flat tool to dislodge the stinger from the skin.
- Place an ice pack over the stung area for about 15 minutes.
- If you got stung on your arm or leg, elevate the limb for some time if possible. This reduces blood flow in the area, which in turn reduces swelling and prevents the venom from spreading.
Method 2: Use Baking Soda
Baking soda is one of the most popular bee sting remedies used in many households. (5) It reduces the reaction by neutralizing the acidic bee venom. Its cooling effect also soothes the pain, inflammation, and itchiness.
Step 1. Make a baking soda paste
- Put 1 tablespoon of baking soda in a small bowl.
- Add enough water to make a thin paste.
- Mix the ingredients together until you have a lump-free paste.
Step 2. Apply the paste on the bee sting
- Apply the baking soda paste on the site of the sting.
- Leave it in place for about 15 minutes to allow the skin to absorb some of the alkaline liquid.
- Gently remove the remaining paste.
- You may follow this with another remedy to further alleviate the itching and pain.
- Baking soda can provide relief in bee sting in 15 minutes. If needed, you can repeat the remedy 2 or 3 times daily for a couple of days.
Method 3: Use Meat Tenderizer
Meat tenderizer is another effective home treatment for bee stings. It contains papain, an enzyme that helps break down the proteins that compose the bee venom. So, if you have some meat tenderizer in your kitchen, grab hold of it to treat that painful bee sting.
Meat tenderizer is also an effective treatment of mosquito bites.
Step 1. Make a paste with meat tenderizer
- Put some meat tenderizer in a small bowl.
- Add enough water to make a thin paste.
- Stir well until your paste is lump-free.
Step 2. Treat the bee sting with the paste
- Cover the bee sting completely with the meat tenderizer paste.
- Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes so that it can penetrate into the skin.
- Gently clean off the remaining paste with a damp towel.
- Repeat this remedy 2 to 3 times during the first 24 hours of the sting to neutralize the venom. You may follow it up with a salve to soothe the inflammation.
Method 4: Use Tobacco
While it is true that smoking or chewing tobacco is bad for your health, it can be beneficial in the case of bee stings. Tobacco’s alkaline nature helps neutralize the acid in the bee venom, which in turn can provide immense pain relief.
The effectiveness of tobacco has not been proven scientifically, but it is believed that nicotine in tobacco also acts as an anesthetic that can reduce pain in a few minutes.
Cigarettes are the most commonly available source of tobacco. Just roll open a cigarette and take the tobacco out. Tobacco works best when moist as it allows the tobacco to release its juices, so mash it up with a little water before using it.
Single-Step Treatment: Apply moist tobacco on the bee sting
- Apply moist tobacco to the stung area.
- Leave it on for about 15 minutes. To keep the tobacco in place, you can cover it with a bandage.
- Tobacco application usually provides immediate relief, but you can repeat several times a day until the stung area has healed completely.
Method 5: Use Mud
If you’re outdoors hiking or camping, your options for treating a bee sting are quite limited. Shed your worries and let plain old mud come to your rescue.
Mud is said to be the remedy used by many to get relief from bee stings. (6) Mud packs and mud baths are also prevalent forms of treatment for a variety of conditions in alternative medicine systems like naturopathy.
Mud holds moisture for a long time and can act as a cold compress to help bring down the swelling. As the mud dries, it also pulls the toxins out of the site of the sting, thus giving you relief from pain and itching in a bee sting.
However, make sure that you do not use mud contaminated by animal or human fecal material. Mud from garden beds that are chemically or otherwise fertilized is also not a good idea.
Step 1. Add water to make a thin paste
- Add some cold water to the mud and mix well to make a thin paste. Mud is already moist, but you need a thin paste to treat your bee sting.
Step 2. Cover the bee sting with the mud paste
- Apply the thin mud paste on the site of the sting and let it sit.
- When the mud dries completely, brush it off.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times a day until the stung area heals completely.
Method 6: Use Onion
Pungent onions can also help heal those painful bee stings. Swiss farmers have been using fresh-cut onions to treat bee stings for centuries. (7)
The compounds in raw onions can help break down the proteins in the bee venom. The quercetin present in onions will also relieve the pain.
Single-Step Treatment: Apply fresh-cut onion over the bee sting
- Cut a raw onion in half.
- Place the cut side over the bee sting and hold it there for up to 15 to 20 minutes.
- For some, the immense relief comes in the first 5 minutes. You may need to repeat the remedy a few times every day until the pain and swelling goes away.
Method 7: Use Toothpaste
Generic white toothpaste can come in handy in a lot of situations, and it’s a reliable remedy for bee stings. It works quite like baking soda and neutralizes the acids in the bee venom. Toothpaste can be especially helpful in soothing the pain, itchiness, and inflammation.
Single-Step Treatment: Cover the stung area with toothpaste
- Squeeze out a pea-sized blob of toothpaste and apply it on the bee sting.
- Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes before washing it off with cool water.
- If needed, repeat the process again after a few hours.
Method 8: Use Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is quite the wonder herb. Its essential oil has analgesic, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial in treating insect bites and stings, especially bee stings. Its calming effect can also help your body to better deal with the sting.
While you can use an undiluted lavender essential oil on minor insect bites, it is advised to use diluted lavender oil to treat bee stings. We diluted it in olive oil, but you can use any carrier oil of your choice.
Things you’ll need:
- Olive oil (carrier oil) – 1 tablespoon
- Lavender essential oil (analgesic, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory) – 5 or 6 drops
Step 1. Dilute the lavender oil
- Mix 5 or 6 drops of lavender essential oil into 1 tablespoon of olive oil (or another carrier oil of your choice).
Step 2. Apply the diluted oil to the bee sting
- Apply the diluted lavender oil on the bee sting using a sterile cotton ball.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times a day you get stung and follow it up with another application the next day.
Method 9: Use Apple Cider Vinegar
Since raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar is another folk remedy, you can also use it to cure bee stings. It’s actually an old remedy for bee stings that has stood the test of time.
Even though it may sting initially, immediate relief quickly follows. While white vinegar can also work, apple cider vinegar has added benefits. It is a popular home remedy for treating pain and inflammation in various medical conditions.
Single-Step Treatment: Apply apple cider vinegar on the bee sting
- Dip a sterile cotton ball into some raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar.
- Gently rub the vinegar over the stung area.
- Repeat 3 or 4 times throughout the day.
Method 10: Use Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion has long been used to soothe itchiness and treat rashes. It works just as well to provide relief from a bee sting. For many, the maddening itch is the worst symptom of a bee sting.
Calamine lotion is excellent at numbing the itch and soothing the skin. It also has anti-allergic properties that come in handy if you have a mild allergy to bees.
Single-Step Treatment: Treat the bee sting with calamine lotion
- Simply apply some calamine lotion on your bee sting with a cotton ball.
- Allow the lotion to remain on your skin for up to 30 minutes at a time.
- Reapply as often as you feel the need until the bee sting heals completely.
Tips for bee sting relief
- After removing the stinger and icing the sting, wash the area with soap and water before applying any ointment or using any of the other remedies. Skin oils can repel remedial applications. Washing the area allows for maximum absorption.
- A paste made from fresh tobacco leaves can also be used to treat bee stings.
- You can also moisten the tobacco from cigarettes with your own saliva. The enzymes present in saliva can help break down the toxins in the bee venom. However, we don’t advise chewing on tobacco to moisten it. Just spit on it instead.
- You can use mint toothpaste to get better results with bee stings.
- If your skin is sensitive to lavender oil or apple cider vinegar, do not use the related remedies.
- Raw honey is also an excellent remedy for bee stings. Apply it for up to 1 hour to get significant relief.
- An aspirin paste can also be applied to alleviate the symptoms of bee stings.
- Przybilla B, Ruëff F. Insect stings: clinical features and management. Deutsches Arzteblatt international. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3334720/. Published March 2012.
- Arif F. Hymenoptera Stings (Bee, Vespids and Ants). StatPearls [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518972/. Published October 27, 2018.
- Zhao Z-L, Zhao H-P, Ma G-J, Wu C-W, Yang K, Feng X-Q. Structures, properties, and functions of the stings of honey bees and paper wasps: a comparative study. Biology open. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4571097/. Published May 22, 2015.
- Pesek RD, Lockey RF. Management of insect sting hypersensitivity: an update. Allergy, asthma & immunology research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636446/. Published May 2013.
- Quandt, Sandberg JC, Altizer KP. Home Remedy Use Among African American and White Older Adults. PubMed Central (PMC). http://europepmc.org/articles/pmc4631220. Published November 5, 2015
- Ediger D, Terzioglu K, Ozturk RT. Venom allergy, risk factors for systemic reactions and the knowledge levels among Turkish beekeepers. Asia Pacific allergy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5931922/. Published April 11, 2018.
- Müller C, Großjohann B, Fischer L. The use of concentrated heat after insect bites/stings as ... Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257884/. Published 2011.
Summary of How to Treat a Bee Sting Quickly
Download this infographic.