Diseases & Conditions

Bee Sting

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Any sting from a bee to a human being.

What are the causes and risks of the injury?

Bee stings can occur any time and place that bees are active. In general, bees are active when the temperature is above freezing. Bees are most often found in wooded areas in the spring, summer, and fall but may also live in more settled areas. Bees and wasps like to build their nests around trees and other brush but may also do so on the eaves of houses.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury?

Possible symptoms include:

  • anaphylaxis, which is a total body allergic reaction that can interfere with breathing and cause a feeling that the throat is closing
  • asthma, a condition that causes wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing
  • pain
  • redness
  • swelling
  • warmth

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the injury recognized?

    Most people feel a bee sting and often even see the bees or wasps that sting them.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the injury?

    If you know that bees, wasps, or their nests are in an area, try to avoid them. Avoid actions that agitate or irritate a group of bees or wasps in or around their nests.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the injury?

    For most people who are stung, the only problems will be swelling and pain. Ice compresses can help relieve these symptoms. Over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also help. However, some people have severe allergic reactions, called anaphylactic reactions. These people may need to have epinephrine given in a shot.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Epinephrine is a very powerful drug and can cause a change in the regular beat of the heart, called arrhythmias. This drug can also result in a decreased blood flow and can raise blood pressure. If epinephrine is needed for an anaphylactic reaction, the affected person should seek emergency care as soon as possible after the bee sting.

    What happens after treatment for the injury?

    In most people, the swelling and redness at the injury site will resolve within a week. There may be times when the site becomes itchy, but the person should try to avoid scratching. No unusual side effects should occur after this.


    Author:James Broomfield, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:02/11/02
    Reviewer:Sandy Keefe, RN, MSN
    Date Reviewed:02/11/02