A sting happens when an insect, like a bee, wasp, or hornet lands on you and inserts its stinger into your skin. These stingers typically have venom on them, though the effect depends on the insect. For most common bees, stinger venom has proteins that impact the skin and immune system. This typically causes pain, swelling, redness, itching, and soreness. For people who are allergic, the Mayo Clinic says the sting can cause anaphylaxis—a dangerous allergic reaction characterized by redness, difficulty breathing, swelling, dangerously low heart rate, and a need for emergency medical care.
So what should you do immediately after getting stung? If there are any signs of an allergic reaction such as hives, difficulty breathing, facial, mouth, or tongue swelling, seek emergency medical care immediately, Dr. Malka says. But if you aren't allergic, you can treat a bee sting yourself, says Terez Malka, MD, emergency medicine physician and pediatrician at digital care company K Health.
Below, Dr. Malka explains exactly what you should do when a bee stings.
Here's what to do for a bee sting
Move to a safe location
Ensuring you’re away from other bees will prevent a swarm from stinging you further. Additionally, you'll want to get to a place where you can relax to make sure you don't have an allergic reaction. Bee allergies are not uncommon, and can develop very quickly after being stung, according to the Mayo Clinic. Knowing your allergy status and keeping an EpiPen accessible is really important for this reason.
So, while you’re calming down, watch for any signs of a potential allergic reaction. If you or the person stung is allergic to bees, use an EpiPen (if available) and seek emergency care.
Remove the stinger, carefully
If the stinger is still present, gently scrape it out using a clean fingernail or gauze, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Using a firm, cleaned credit card, or other small, straight edge can suffice as well, says Dr. Malka.
However, the CDC and Dr. Malka both advise that you never use tweezers to remove a stinger. This is because tweezing out a stinger can squeeze it and release more venom into the skin.
Apply a cool compress or ice to the area
Applying a cool compress or ice to the area has a variety of benefits, such as alleviating the stinging sensation, aiding in swelling, and helping with redness, Dr. Malka explains. Ice the area for 10 to 20 minutes and then allow the skin to rest for time until it feels hot and the swelling returns.
Take over-the-counter medication based on your symptoms
You can also use over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen for pain or swelling and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for itching and swelling, Dr. Malka says. Be sure not to scratch or squeeze the area because doing so can increase your risk of infections.
Once you complete these steps, Dr. Malk recommends that you monitor your symptoms. Swelling can persist, which is why experts recommend OTC medications. The Mayo Clinic suggests that you seek medical care if your sting has not healed after 10 days.
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