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Reactions to Bee Stings

Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants belong to the same family of insects. The honeybee stings once, leaves its stinger behind after stinging, and then dies. This is in contrast to wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets, which can sting repeatedly and do not usually lose their stingers.

Reactions to stings may include:

  • A minor reaction with a bump, or wheal, at the site of the bee sting. Pain and itching may be present and may last from a few hours to a few days.
  • Large skin reactions that involve redness and swelling extending beyond the sting site. This reaction may affect an entire limb or large area of the body.
  • Severe life-threatening allergic reactions.
  • Toxic reactions, which are more likely to occur when you have been stung 10 or more times.
  • Serum sickness, a rare reaction to stings, that causes flu-like symptoms, joint pain, and hives beginning 7 to 14 days after an insect sting.

Home treatment is usually all that is needed for minor reactions to relieve pain and itching. Severe reactions require medical treatment.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised October 14, 2011

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