Stings from bees, hornets, and wasps…. Ouch!

Most of us will be stung by an insect at some point. It can be both painful and scary. Some have serious reactions that can be life-threatening and require quick treatment, but most bee stings can be treated at home.  

What to Do If You Have Been Stung   

If you see a stinger, remove it quickly to prevent more venom from being released. Wash the area with soap and water if available, apply cold packs frequently, elevate the area if it’s an arm or leg, and consider taking Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Try to avoid scratching; over the counter hydrocortisone cream may help the itch.  
Infections from stings are extremely rare and usually don’t develop until a week or more after the sting. Signs of infection include fever and chills, red streaks going up the arm or leg, worsening pain several days or longer after being stung, and swollen glands. If you suspect an infection, seek medical care. 

Types of Reactions  

Most people who are stung by an insect will develop a local reaction. Others will also develop a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.  

Local reaction 

Localized reactions can be treated at home, but if you are concerned, seek evaluation. These reactions include: 

  • Sharp or burning pain  
  • Swelling and redness around the area 
  • Severe redness and swelling in one to three days that fades away over five to 10 days 


Severe allergic reactions are called anaphylaxis and can lead to death. If you have any of the following symptoms after being stung, call 911 right away. Do not go to Immediate Care. If you have an EpiPen, use it immediately while someone calls 911.  
  • Hives all over that develop quickly, often with itching of palms and soles of feet 
  • Sudden change in skin color of the face- red, purple, or some people look blotchy or pale 
  • Trouble breathing   
  • Chest pain or tightness   
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat  
  • Feeling faint or passing out  
  • Vomiting or sudden urge to have a bowel movement or abdominal cramping 
  • A sense that something “bad” is going to happen 

Avoiding Stings 

Bees and wasps that are away from their nest are not aggressive and only sting when threatened. In late summer and fall, bees and hornets become more interested in food. Consider eating indoors, but if you eat outside, keep food covered, clean up spills, check your drink before taking a sip, and don’t walk barefoot. If a bee is on or near you, do not swat at it or flail your arms.  
While bee stings can be painful, for most people they are not life-threatening. You can treat most bee stings at home. If you are concerned about the area around the sting, go to Immediate Care 7 days a week, or call 603-577-2273 option 5 for a virtual visit Monday -Friday.  

If you or someone you are with develops severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis symptoms, call 911 right away.  

Posted: 9/2/2023 by Renee Broze, APRN, Immediate Care